Call Centre Acoustic Shock

The call centre industry accounts for a workforce between 650,000 and 1 million people, which is between 2 and 3% of the working population.

Many call centre workers have been exposed to what is called acoustic shock. This is caused by a sudden high pitched sound, often caused by faulty or poor quality headsets provided by employers.

In 2005, nearly 30% of the telephone staff in a 160-strong BT centre received about 145 acoustic shocks over the course of 2 days.

What is Acoustic Shock?

Acoustic shock is a sudden, unexpected high pitched and high intensity sound and the subsequent symptoms that can develop.

What can cause the sound?

There are a large number of potential causes but a few include:

  • Faulty telephone or headset equipment
  • Transmission faults on the telephone network
  • Lightening
  • Positive feedback with some cordless and mobile phones

Acoustic Shock Symptoms

  • Muffled conversations
  • A whooshing, buzzing or whistling sound in their ears, when it is quiet (a condition called tinnitus)
  • Headaches
  • Hypersensitivity to sound (a condition called hyperacusis)
  • Sleep disturbance

What should employers do?

Since 1991, major headset manufacturers have incorporated an acoustic limiter in the electronics of headsets, to meet the requirements of the Department of Trade and Industry specifications. In the UK, this limiter ensures that any type of noise above 118 dB is not transmitted through the headset.

Many employers do not take the issue seriously, but they should be recording all complaints and ensure that thorough risk assessments are conducted to check the headsets are suitable and maintained. Furthermore, all staff should be trained in how to wear the headsets effectively and how to report superficial instances of acoustic shock.

If you have an ongoing condition, then a cautious employer should change your job role until the symptoms have subsided.

What can I do if I have been exposed to acoustic shock?

Contact us today on free phone 0800 294 3065 or email us at We will be able to advise you on how best to proceed with your claim.

Click here to see a case study of a former client who has been exposed to acoustic shock.