One in four call centre agents suffer voice problems because managers are failing to properly protect their health.

A new study, commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and released today (16 April – World Voice Day 2012), reveals that call handlers had suffered one or more of a range of ill effects because of their work, including voice loss, sore throats and breathlessness.

Around one in ten were diagnosed with a voice problem, while a tenth said their work was now suffering because of the stress placed on their vocal cords.

Of the call agents surveyed, 60% reported having difficulty making themselves heard against background noise and 41% said they had failed to be heard by the customer on the other end of the line.

More than one in three call agents said that their voice was hoarse often or very often.

Researchers identified new starters, particularly female workers, as a high-risk group of call agents who are more likely to develop voice problems.

Experts at Ulster University surveyed nearly 600 call handlers from 14 call centres across the UK and Ireland, as part of the study. These included outbound customer services and sales services to the retail, finance, marketing, government, information technology and leisure sectors.

Dr Luise Vassie, Executive Director of Policy at IOSH, said:

“People who depend on their voices within their day-to-day role, such as actors and singers, often have training on how to control and protect their voice – call agents should be no different.

“Call centre managers and employees would be wise to heed the advice of this research and consider what benefits vocal training and a raised awareness of environmental issues would bring to their organisation.”

Said Dr Diane Hazlett, of Ulster University, who led the research:

“This industry incurs high vocal demands which can affect vocal flexibility and capacity over time. Altered voice quality or vocal strength may impact on the call-handler’s confidence or ability to fully engage the customer. For these professional voice users, a strong reliable voice is needed to ensure consistent and effective work performance.”