Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Noise Monitoring a Necessity to Prevent Hearing Loss Among Agents

September 21, 2006

Unfortunately, noise is something that is unavoidable in the contact center. Agents must be able to talk to a customer, chairs squeak, computer keys click, and so on. But, what has raised concern in the industry is not the everyday noises associated with the work environment, but rather the noise levels delivered through headsets and the background noise that may contribute to the headset volume.
A new European Directive came into effect in April of this year that focused on the issue of noise at work. Contact centers were expected to conduct a risk assessment and thus implement measures necessary to comply with new standards for noise. Prior to the expected implementation, the Customer Contact Association (CCA), issued a survey to grasp a clear understanding of members’ position on the directive and what actions were being taken towards compliance.
By January of this year, 81 percent of contact centers had taken actions towards compliance while 13 percent had taken no action whatsoever. Contact centers that responded with plans in progress represented 6 percent.
Actions that were implemented into member contact centers focused on various areas, but one in particular included the safety of the headset. Some centers developed best practice guidance on how to wear a headset, repair, maintain and look after the agent’s voice. Specific actions were also outlined for management to take ownership and responsibility to ensure that their staff change voice tubes, foams and escalate when acoustic shock is highlighted.
Contact centers have also developed training material for new and existing staff on the proper use of headsets, amplifier cords, phones and volume controls. Others have also worked with headset suppliers to test new products that may provide acoustic protection.
In the past, it was believed that hearing damage or loss was not an inherent risk for call center agents as they were not sustaining long periods of high decimal sound through their headphones. Research from specific European studies indicated otherwise and thus the Health and Safety Organization initiated a drive to enforce standards in the work environment to protect the hearing of employees.
For the call center agent, what happens over time is that background noise or the basic inability of the headset to properly amplify the caller’s voice will prompt the agent to turn up the volume on the headset. Initial volume increases are not necessarily damaging, but these increases continue as quality of the headset degrades or the agent has increased difficulty in separating background noise from the headset.
Steady volume increases over time expose the agent’s hearing to volumes at dangerous levels that actually seem normal to the agents themselves. In the United Kingdom, 17,000 individuals suffer deafness, tinnitus or other ear conditions as a result of exposure to excessive noise at work.
Advances are being made, not only in technology, but also in call center environments, with the focus on protecting the hearing of the call center employees. Hearing loss can occur slowly over time and there is not way to reverse it.  Call center leaders have a responsibility to their employees to not only provide proper equipment to protect their hearing, but also proper training and monitoring of noise levels to ensure the safety of employees.
Call Center 2.0 is less than three weeks away. Want to learn from the industry’s leading experts? Then don’t miss an opportunity to interact with leading teleservices companies and technology vendors. Call Center 2.0 is collocated at INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & Expo, WEST, which runs October 10-13, 2006. See you in San Diego!

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMC and has also written for To see more of her articles, please visit Susan J. Campbell’s columnist page.