Industrial Noise & Vibration Centre

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Acoustic Shock – Shock!!

Posted on: June 18, 2013

Doesn’t the term “Acoustic Shock” sound nasty? If you renamed it “unexpected somewhat louder headset noise than usual that is still at only a tiny fraction of the noise level that is deemed to cause hearing damage in industry”, it wouldn’t sound so bad.

The problem is that there is something of a bandwagon with plenty of horror stories in the media about “acoustic shock” in call centres and you can find a lot of “information” on the web. I was even told by someone recently that an event was so bad for one operator that it “made her ears bleed” – apocryphal, but he believed it.

Headsets have limiters; people have volume controls. We’ve measured many call centre operator exposures and the highest still had daily noise doses in the mid 70s – 1/10th the level at which PPE is mandatory in industry. If the noise limiter on a station is not working, you could get startling events – easily solved by fixing the technical problem. The real problem is actually not so much technical and acoustic, but one or more of the human problems associated with poor working conditions that can cause stress. And unexpected acoustic events can cause stress in susceptible people that can lead to a range of stress related symptoms. Unless someone can show that the hearing of call centre personnel is an order of magnitude more sensitive than in industry, conventional hearing damage could only happen via a combination of faulty equipment and a long term commitment by the operators to working at a volume of 11 (Spinal Tap scale …