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Acoustic shock

This is a mainly British term for a novel type of industrial injury that is said to be suffered particularly by staff in call centres. Such staff spend their days with headphones clamped to their ears, answering incoming calls or cold-calling prospective customers. It is claimed that workers are often subjected to piercing noises, for example from fax machines accidentally called (or other sources not clearly identified in news reports), which are damaging their hearing. Many call centres are virtual sweatshops, with long hours, poor conditions, low pay, pressure on operators to improve productivity, and petty limitations on freedom of movement; it may be that some claims of hearing damage are as much a reflection of the stressful working conditions as of true injury. Acoustic shock is the subject of a legal case in Britain in which 83 workers are claiming compensation. The term itself is not new, having been part of the jargon of telecoms engineers for many years.

Call centres, one of the fastest growing industries in Britain, are triggering a new industrial injury — acoustic shock.

Guardian, Feb. 2001

The TUC set up a helpline to take calls from call centre workers. Common complaints included being over-supervised, having toilet breaks timed, having pay docked for arriving a few minutes late, and fear of “acoustic shock” from the telephone system.

Personal Computer World, July 2001

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 22 Sep. 2001

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-aco1.htm
Last modified: 22 September 2001.