Understanding the Hierarchy of Control: A Comprehensive Guide

Ensuring workplace safety is a top priority in any industry. One of the most effective frameworks for managing and minimizing risks is the hierarchy of control. This method provides a structured approach, being ranked from most to least effective, to identifying, evaluating, and controlling hazards to protect workers and create safer environments.

hierarchy of control

What is the Hierarchy of Control?

The hierarchy of control is a systematic framework used to manage risks by implementing control measures in a specific order of effectiveness. This approach is designed to eliminate or reduce exposure to hazards, thereby preventing accidents and injuries in the workplace. The hierarchy is typically visualized as a pyramid, with the most effective control measures at the top and the least effective at the bottom. Quite often, measures are combined to offer the best protection for workers.

Why Does the Hierarchy of Control Exist?

The hierarchy of control exists to provide a clear, structured method for addressing workplace hazards. By following this framework, organizations can prioritize their efforts and resources to implement the most effective safety measures first. This not only enhances workplace safety but also ensures compliance with regulatory requirements and promotes a culture of proactive risk management. The hierarchy helps organizations systematically approach hazard control, starting with the most effective solutions and moving down to those that offer less protection.

How Many Steps Are There in the Hierarchy of Control?

The traditional hierarchy of control consists of five primary steps. However, some models, such as the “6 hierarchy of control,” include an additional step for a more detailed approach. Here, we will discuss the six-step model for a comprehensive understanding.

The 6 Hierarchy of Control Steps

     

      1. Elimination

      1. Substitution

      1. Engineering Controls

      1. Administrative Controls

      1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

      1. Isolation

    1. Elimination

    Elimination is the most effective control measure, as it involves completely removing the hazard from the workplace. For instance, if a particular machine poses a risk of injury, eliminating the need for that machine by redesigning the workflow can effectively remove the hazard.

    Example: If a noisy machine is causing hearing damage, eliminating the machine and replacing it with a quieter one or changing the process to avoid the machine can solve the issue.

    2. Substitution

    Substitution involves replacing a hazardous substance or process with a less dangerous one. This step is the second most effective in the hierarchy.

    Example: Replacing a toxic solvent with a non-toxic or less harmful alternative to reduce health risks to workers.

    3. Engineering Controls

    Engineering controls aim to design safer systems and environments to minimize exposure to hazards. This involves physical changes to the workplace or equipment.

    Example: Installing ventilation systems to remove harmful fumes from a workspace or adding guards to machinery to prevent contact with moving parts.

    4. Administrative Controls

    Administrative controls involve changing work procedures or policies to reduce risk. This step focuses on providing workers with more information, relevant training, and procedural adjustments.

    Example: Implementing a job rotation schedule to limit the time workers are exposed to repetitive motion tasks or high-stress environments.

    5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is considered the least effective control measure because it relies on human behavior and correct usage. It involves clothing and personal devices to help protect workers from a hazard. PPE should be used as a last resort when other controls are not feasible.

    Example: Providing gloves, helmets, goggles, and earplugs to protect workers from specific hazards.

    6. Isolation

    Isolation involves separating people from the hazard. This can be done by enclosing or isolating the hazard to prevent exposure.

    Example: Using barriers or enclosures to separate workers from dangerous machinery or creating designated areas for hazardous materials storage.

    What is the First Step of the Hierarchy of Control?

    The first step of the hierarchy of control is Elimination. This step is prioritized because it completely removes the hazard, thereby eliminating any associated risks. It’s the most desirable option but often the most challenging to implement due to practical and economic considerations.

    Why is the Hierarchy of Control Important?

    Understanding and applying the hierarchy of risk control is crucial for maintaining a safe workplace. It helps employers systematically assess hazards and implement the most effective measures to protect workers. By following this structured approach, organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of accidents and create a safer working environment.

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    Practical Examples of Hierarchy of Control Implementation

    Elimination

    Scenario: A company identifies that a particular chemical used in their manufacturing process poses significant health risks to employees.

    Solution: The company redesigns their process to eliminate the need for the hazardous chemical altogether. This not only removes the risk but also improves overall safety and reduces potential liabilities.

    Substitution

    Scenario: In a laboratory, a toxic solvent is frequently used, exposing staff to potential health risks.

    Solution: The laboratory switches to a less toxic solvent that performs the same function without the associated health risks.

    Engineering Controls

    Scenario: A factory has machinery that generates harmful dust during operation.

    Solution: The factory installs dust extraction systems to capture and remove the dust at the source, preventing it from becoming airborne and inhaled by workers.

    Administrative Controls

    Scenario: A warehouse has a high rate of repetitive strain injuries among workers due to continuous lifting.

    Solution: The warehouse implements training programs on proper lifting techniques and schedules regular breaks to reduce strain on workers’ bodies.

    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    Scenario: Workers in a construction site are exposed to falling debris.

    Solution: The construction company provides helmets, safety goggles, and steel-toed boots to protect workers from injuries caused by falling objects.

    Isolation

    Scenario: A section of a manufacturing plant contains high-temperature equipment.

    Solution: The area is enclosed with heat-resistant barriers, and only authorized personnel with appropriate training and PPE are allowed to enter, minimizing exposure to the hazard.

    Conclusion

    The hierarchy of hazard control provides a clear, step-by-step method for managing workplace risks. By prioritizing measures from elimination to PPE, employers can effectively reduce hazards and enhance safety. Implementing these controls not only complies with safety regulations but also promotes a culture of health and safety in the workplace.

    For more detailed information on each control measure and practical tips for implementation, visit our comprehensive guide on the hierarchy of control.


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