Hearing Loss

Noise isn’t just annoying, sometimes it can be dangerous. Before regulations were imposed to control noise levels in factories, people often became deaf over time due to noise exposure at work. You may know older relatives who have trouble hearing – everyone’s hearing deteriorates with age, but noise exposure can make this much, much worse.

Today, workplace noise is controlled in law, and people who work in noisy environments often wear ear defenders to cut down noise levels as shown in the picture below.

Dummy head and claire
Protecting your ears using ear defenders.

“As a scientist researching hearing loss in workplaces I use the decibel every day, because the risk to hearing is about how loud a sound is (measured using decibels) and how long you’re exposed to it.”

Emma Shanks, Health and Safety Executive

Summy head icon Career case study 1: What Emma does in her job protecting hearing

Summy head icon Career case study 2: Teli Chinelis assists the courts in cases of alleged harm due to noise and vibration at work.


You might think that noise-induced hearing loss is a thing of the past. Unfortunately this is not true, as exposure to a high level of any noise can cause temporary deafness, and repeated exposure over a period of time can cause permanent hearing loss. This includes exposure due to personal sound equipment as well as music exposure at clubs and gigs.

Whilst many people might consider it a little eccentric to go for a big night out wearing industrial hearing defenders, small ear-plugs are widely available and are very widely used by people whose hearing is essential to them – musicians, mix engineers, broadcasters and so on. This is what the charity Action on Hearing Loss recommends for safe listening to music.

Additional teaching resources

This page has comprehensive resources for group activities designed to explore sound, hearing and noise. Covers aspects such as what makes a sound pleasant, the ear anatomy and hearing damage. Originally developed for use in science museums during school visits, but could also be used physics lessons.

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