With over 240 million calls being made to 911 each year within the United States alone, 911 dispatchers serve as the bridge between callers and help needed. Dispatchers in this position rely on their voices to connect and convey needed information to callers, and are often talking on the phone for close to 40 hours per week.
A 2002 study from the American Academy of Otolaryngology, reports of voice problems in 31% of call center agents, or telemarketers. Since 911 dispatchers often experience even more strain than call center agents, it is clear that proper voice care is an essential part of having health and success as a dispatcher. Improper voice care can lead to vocal cord overuse, which is now considered a repetitive motion injury. Vocal cord overuse can lead to increased sick days, needing to repeat themselves, and many other detrimental issues. Learn to protect your voice with the following guidance.
1. Protect your vocal cords with voice pacing
Taking frequent breaks throughout the work day can save your voice from additional, unnecessary strain. Breaks can be classified within three levels:
Breaks within phone calls
Be aware of your breathing between sentences. The “micro breaks” your vocal cords receive from constant vibration are extremely important in a job that consists mainly of talking. Preset or pre-recorded phone scripts for things that are consistently repeated also allow for a brief voice break.
Breaks between phone calls
Along with your regular work breaks, it is recommended that dispatchers try to take 5-minute breaks every hour, where they switch to a task that doesn’t require talking.
Breaks between workdays
Time off is crucial in any job, especially one that is demanding and can be high stress. Do your best to limit extra voice use outside of work.
2. Keep up with vocal hygiene
Keeping your voice in its best working order involves proper vocal hygiene, on and off the work floor.
To keep your voice free from irritation:
- Keep water at your workstation and strive to drink 64oz per day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Don’t smoke!
- Avoid excess coughing or throat clearing.
- Don’t work on the phone if you are hoarse due to a cold or respiratory infection.
- Work with your doctor to manage any medical conditions that could cause vocal irritation.
3. Review your PSAP work environment
The environment within a dispatch center is reflected in dispatchers’ voices and overall health. Small environmental factors that require extra use or a higher volume from your voice can be detrimental. The louder you speak, the more strain on your vocal cords.
To prevent vocal strain and protect your voice, encourage these practices around the office:
- Keep background noise to a minimum.
- Do not let humidity dip between 40%.
- Use cubicles or partitions for better acoustics and protection from background noise.
- Temperature should be well controlled, and moderate.
- Headsets should encourage quieter, not louder talking.
- Any chairs, desks, headsets, lights, keyboards, etc. should promote good ergonomics to maintain a healthy posture and reduce extra tension.
4. Personal practices to protect your voice
If you’re working as a 911 dispatcher, use your voice wisely.
- Try not to overuse, and be aware of when you notice your voice getting tired to give it adequate breaks.
- Do your best to keep a consistent volume, as the extremes in either direction can cause additional strain.
- Get in the habit of practicing proper breathing techniques, as well as finding a good neutral position for your head and neck.
- Simple, ergonomic improvements at the desk can make a difference in overall voice health. Sit up straight, and ensure your computer monitor is at eye level to avoid neck strain.
5. Seek expert advice
If you do find your voice tired or straining, don’t wait until you have completely lost your voice to make a change. Instead, take notice when your throat is dry, raw, raspy or tired, you have increased mucus, or feel like talking takes more effort. When this happens, get an evaluation from a laryngologist, as well as a voice-trained speech-language pathologist. They should be able to provide you with a diagnosis, in addition to a plan to help get your healthy voice back.
Watson At Work
Encourage healthy office space and voice habits today. By practicing vocal health exercises and incorporating ergonomics both at the dispatcher desk and at home, 911 dispatchers can help protect their most precious tool. You take care of others, let us take care of you! Watson Consoles is dedicated to focus and comfort, reduced stress, and the general health and well being of 911 dispatchers and all Dispatch Centers throughout the U.S.