With the coughs and colds season fast approaching, a new report has warned that millions of workers risk losing their voices this winter, costing the economy millions.
According to the TUC, figures from the US suggest that as many as five million workers in the UK could be routinely affected by voice loss, at annual cost to the economy of over £200 million.
Germs, dry centrally-heated offices and jobs which require too much talking are to blame, with teachers and call centre workers most likely to have vocal problems, the TUC says.
In any one year, around one in five teachers has to miss school due to voice-related problems, five times the rate for the UK workforce as a whole.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Speech and Language has reported increasing numbers of call centre workers being referred to speech therapists, blaming their voice loss on over-long scripts, long hours and few opportunities to take a break for a drink of water.
The TUC report, ‘Work hoarse’, says that a wide variety of other workers are at risk of losing their voices as a result of the jobs they do, including childcare workers, shop workers, radio and TV reporters, sales staff, barristers, bingo callers, counsellors and fitness instructors. It also says that whilst talking is clearly not avoidable in many jobs, voice loss is.
Among the recommendations made to avoid voice loss, the report reminds employers to ensure staff take regular rest breaks and drink plenty of fresh water and not to put pressure on staff to come into work when they are not well enough to do so.
They should also provide a working environment that has a comfortable temperature and humidity, control dust and chemicals, both of which can inflame the membranes of the vocal tract, and carry out a risk assessment that looks at the jobs most at risk of voice loss and stress.
The report's author, Rory O'Neill, said: "In many service sector jobs, it is easy to forget the voice is working overtime throughout the entire shift - and that is dangerous talk.
"Whatever name you give it - repetitive voice injury, call centre-itis or the curse of the chalkface - it is a potentially career threatening condition."