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SAG-AFTRA Seeks State Probe Into ‘Stressful’ Vocal Work for Videogames

SAG-AFTRA is asking the state of California to investigate the videogame industry for allegedly allowing unsafe practices that damage performers’ vocal chords.

The union, in a letter posted on its web site, has asked the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration to probe industry practices and create vocal safety standards.

“Increasing numbers of voiceover actors are reporting that they are experiencing both short-term and/or long-term damage to their vocal cords, due to the intensity of the vocal demands put on to them by the employers,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White in a letter to Hassan Adan,  Cal/OSHA’s regional manager.

“For up to four hours, actors are asked to perform not just voices, but noises, death screams, creature voices, combat yelling and other sounds, with so much force and explosive vibration, that they are causing internal damage to their vocal cords.”

White said in the letter that medical specialists Warren Line Jr. and Linda Dominguez-Gasson “have documented that the vocal stress from video games is causing medical problems that include vocal nodules, cysts, polyps and, in some cases, cord hemorrhaging.”

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“Medical treatments may require short-to-long-term rest, medications, surgery, and speech-language therapy to remediate the injury,” White added in the May 25 letter. “Long-term effects can lead to career-ending alteration of vocal quality or vocal chord paralysis.”

The union posted the letter on the site along with a notice to members on May 26, noting that it was approaching Cal/OSHA after asking members in early February to report instances of vocal stress they had experienced while voice acting in video games due to employers pushing too hard or not providing adequate safety measures.

“Many of the stories we heard from members are truly disturbing,” the union told its members. “Among the injuries reported were instances of performers losing their voices for up to six months, tasting blood during their session, fainting or nearly fainting, and damage resulting in a permanent change to vocal range.”

“Vocal stress due to overwork has become increasingly prevalent and the resulting injuries put members’ careers and livelihoods in jeopardy,” SAG-AFTRA said.

The union urged members approach Cal/OSHA, noting that the agency is required by law to maintain the confidentiality of any complaint made. A spokeswoman for SAG-AFTRA said she could not comment beyond the posting on the site, pointing to a news blackout on negotiations with the video game companies.

Those negotiations have been going on sporadically since 2014 and included a vote by members last October to authorize the national board to call a strike. Reps for the videogame industry and Cal/OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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