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Blog: Attitudes to hearing loss in the construction industry

A blog by Hearing Link volunteer, Bob Gowen

I’d like to write about attitudes in the construction sector to people who are deaf. As an electrical contractor I have spent a lot of time working on building sites, and here are a few of my experiences.

I gradually lost my hearing from my early forties. As I became progressively more hearing impaired I found that some people on the constructions sites I worked on were quick to take the mickey out of me. Fortunately, I was my own boss and I didn’t have to work with these guys on a regular basis. I found that I ended up ignoring them unless I absolutely had to converse with them (about the job). This felt alien to me as I am usually a very sociable person.

I once went to a seminar on electrical regulations and asked a question at the end. The whole room burst into laughter. The topic had just been covered and I didn’t hear any of it properly. I was so embarrassed that I decided to give up the course.

What I worry about is how other people with hearing loss who work in the construction industry cope with being the object of ridicule all the time. Unlike me they may not be self-employed and therefore cannot simply walk away. How would it affect their mental health? Would it drive them to depression or would they leave their jobs and seek new employment?

I have met other deaf people who have had to give up or change jobs because of the stress of hearing loss. They were office and telephone workers rather than manual workers.

It is well known in the construction industry that hearing loss due to noise damage is an occupational hazard. Today, we are more protected by health and safety laws than ever. However, most of these are not compulsory, and if they are not adhered to, a worker may be unable to claim any benefits if they develop a problem. I think there must be many people with hearing loss in my sector, and chances are it is a challenging if not impossible environment for them to work in.

Conversation, even with close family and friends who cared about me, was difficult and I would often retreat to a corner when I couldn’t join in the conversation. In a working situation it could be much worse.

I know without my family pushing me to improve my hearing and getting a cochlear implant my life would have been pretty mundane. The last five years with my implant have been such a joy and given me a new lease of life. So much so that I became a volunteer with Hearing Link to help encourage others. Hopefully we, as Hearing Link Helpdesk volunteers, can provide some reassurance to people in these circumstances to make living with hearing loss easier.