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Are you neglecting to protect your employee’s most vital workplace tool?

by , 16 January 2013
Voice protection may not be the first thing you think of when you think about the health and safety of your employees, but the truth is their voice is your employee’s most essential workplace tool they have. And it should be at the top of your health and safety list.

You’re probably surprised to hear this. After all, as a business owner you think about all types of health and safety issues: Fire escape plans, smoking, how to protect your employees when they handle dangerous machinery. But you’ve probably never thought about your employee’s voice. 
Here’s why you should…
Workplace stress is one of the leading causes of voice damage
A few weeks ago I phone my friend PB. I hadn’t spoken to her in a while and was dying to find out how she was doing. 
You can imagine my shock when she picked up the phone in a whisper. 
Thinking I’d caught her at a bad time, I asked if she could talk. 
“Of course I can,” she whispered. 
And that’s when I asked why she was whispering. 
“Oh,” she replied, “my voice has been like this for weeks. Turns out stress has caused me to develop acid reflux problems and all the extra acid had resulted chronic laryngitis. I did some research on it and it turns out that workplace stress is one of the key causes behind this – and it’s a pretty common one at that!”
I was shocked to hear that! After all, even if your employee’s aren’t call centre agents or entertainers, the voice is directly involved in almost every work situation – from giving presentations, issuing orders to speaking to suppliers on the phone. 
How is the voice damaged at work?
It’s pretty easy to damage your vocal cords. In fact, any pathology affecting the vocal cords disturbs the quality of sound produced and is audible immediately. This includes: 
Functional voice damage as a result of abuse or misuse of voice (shouting in a very loud factory environment)
Organic voice damage (e.g. disease)
Psychogenic or emotional voice damage (e.g. hysterical dysphonia [loss of voice / whisper] caused by grief, shock or stress).
Voice damage caused by pre-existing ailments like acid reflux, arthritis, cancer, etc. or allergies.
There are three things you can do to protect your employee’s voices from harm
There are three easy actions you can take to protect your employeesʼ voices in the workplace:
1. Eliminate the cause – this could be as easy as providing PPE masks to employees who are exposed to dust, gas or steam in their jobs or something more progressive like ensuring call centre agents have regular breaks and are rotated between tasks. 
2. Manage intervention – intervention can take the form of psychological debriefings to deal with shock or stress or be as simple as educating your employees on voice hygiene and care.
3. Conduct speech therapy – this includes treatments like voice training and breathing techniques.
So next time you step out of your office, chat to some of your employees in the lobby or on the staircase, if you notice a change in voice or hoarseness in one of them, it could be a sign of workplace voice damage and should be looked into.
Want to know what other dangers are lurking in your workplace that you haven’t thought of, make sure you don’t miss our next issue of the Health and Safety Bulletin. Sign up now…

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