CWU Criticises HSE Stance On Acoustic Shock

Speaking at the two-day Acoustic Safety Conferenc ein Glasgow last month, Dave Joyce, CWU National H&S Officer experessed deep concern over the HSE's postion on acoustic shocks and mirrored the expereince of many in dealing with them over this issue, a complete dismissal of the noise at work issues effecting contact centre workers.

In a lengthy and detailed speach to the conference, Dave pointed highlighted the furtehr need for research and the inadequacies of that previously done by the HSE:

"It was in 1998 that the first HSE and RNID research indicated that 30% of call centre operatives investigated showed symptoms linked with Acoustic Shock, and that 39% believed their hearing had been damaged during employment in a call centre. However, after a good start - later HSE research went downhill - and that’s perhaps where the problem lays"

Commenting also on the recently issued HS Labs guidance to Environmental Health Depts, Dave added,

" In 1999 the CWU convinced the HSE to include reference to Acoustic Shock in their revised and very important “Advice Regarding Call Centre Working Practices” HELA Circular LAC 94/1 (That’s recently been revised to LAC 94/2 and it doesn’t have CWU support, primarily because of the section on acoustic shock) – However Generally speaking the Standards set out in HELA LAC 94/2 are those which the whole Call Centre Industry should be working as a minimum."

However, Dave pointed out that the same can't be said for the Call Centre Industry and Acoustic Shock where the research is woefully inadequate and based on inadequate data, " The current advice to the call centre industry falls short of what the CWU would like to see - for some, it has to be said regrettably, its the message they want to hear!"

The HSE presentation had been given in the rpevious section at the conference and Dave commented on a number of very important points to consider int heir claims that the problem is minimal and challenged the fact that they do not seem to have made their mind up on the serious health effects of acoustic shock.

Noting that the HSE at last have accepted that Acoustic shock was conceivable below the standard headset 118 dB cut off, unlike the information on their website; Dave pointed out that the HSE said, "....that the Protection in modern headsets was sufficient to control damaging sound levels reaching the ear – which is not consistent with the evidence presented in the CWU cases which have accrued a million pounds in compensation!"

Commenting further on the HSE presentation he said,

"The current HSE presentation and advice therein has two key points as follows: Firstly there were Very few reported incidents in UK and No known RIDDORS (that’s the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations) incidents with over 3 days off work sick! Secondly - HSE research carried out in 2005 concluded - No ‘acoustic shock’ incidents were reported to HSE researchers from the staff questioned. In short therefore the HSE presentation concluded that there was no need for further limiting or filtering devices and Operator simply need to adjust their volume!"

Claiming that their reseach was inadequate and flawed, Dave commented on their argument concerning RIDDOR,

"This regulation is the law under which all Employers are supposed to report accidents and diseases resulting in death or injury where the person is away from their job for over three days.Unfortunately it's a law that the HSE doesn't enforce - and the problem with laws that aren't enforced is that people take no notice of them and the whole thing becomes a total farce.  On the one hand the HSE Noise and Vibration Unit are basing conclusions of RIDDOR Reports but on the other hand what do the HSE themselves say about the reliability of RIDDOR Information - lets take a look - because in May of last year the HSE published a Discussion Document entitled "the reviewing of RIDDOR" and the HSE said, and I quote " An important weakness of RIDDOR is the significant level of under-reporting of incidents to the enforcing authorities, the extent of which is indicated by the results of annual surveys and data sources. While the HSE have systems in place to ensure that they find out about nearly all work-related fatalities, current figures suggest that employers only report around 40% of fatalities and less than 5% of the non-fatal accident injuries they should report under RIDDOR."

Dave added, "RIDDOR reports also substantially understate the level of work-related occupational diseases (including deafness).
The overall reporting levels for dangerous occurrences are minimal. As a result of under-reporting and the poor quality of many reports, the enforcing authorities do not receive the good quality intelligence they need to inform their regulatory activities and to target their resources effectively. This ‘intelligence’ gap can be filled in different ways, for example by following up reports to gain further information in relation to specific sectoral surveys.

As far as occupational ill health is concerned the HSE say that RIDDOR doesn't provide a comprehensive indication of the national scale of occupational disease and Occupational ill health is so under-reported via RIDDOR that it begs the question whether we should persevere with ill health reporting under RIDDOR."

Dave concluded, "So in a nut-shell there you have it in HSE's own words - don't rely or base any conclusions on RIDDOR! However in several presentations to the call-centre industry last year the hse's noise and vibration unit were saying the reverse!"

Many observers concerned with this issue will know that the HSE did complete research into this subject, but few will realise the inadequacy of their research, as Dave pointed out.

" The HSE Research was based on just 176 people in an industry employing 1.2 Million - Do you think that’s a conclusive sample? – We don’t and the researchers never looked at the CWU’s 300 cases – one of whom spoke at this conference!"

The full text of Dave's presentation to the conference can be read on the CWU Website

Acoustic Safety Programm's 'We Care' campaign


Designed, Hosted and Maintained by Oasis Heath & Safety Ltd