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The hierarchy of safety controls (with examples)

Heidi LevittCo-CEOJuly 19, 2020

The hierarchy of safety controls outlines the order of steps you should take to minimize or eliminate a hazard in your workplace. It’s beautiful for its simplicity and effectiveness.

The hierarchy of safety controls:

  1. Elimination: Physically remove the hazard.
  2. Substitution: Replace the hazard.
  3. Engineering controls: Isolate people from the hazard.
  4. Administrative controls: Change the way people work.
  5. PPE: Protect the worker with personal protective equipment.

hierarchy of controls

Elimination:

The best way to improve safety in your workplace is to eliminate the hazard.

Examples:

  • Respiratory: Determine whether your workplace needs a chemical or particulate for the desired outcome. If the answer is no, remove the product presenting the threat.
  • Skin exposure: Eliminate chemicals that may cause a dangerous skin reaction.
  • Working at heights: Perform tasks where possible at ground level rather than working from an elevated position. For instance, using an extension pole for changing lightbulbs or a drone to investigate an issue or relocate hardware.

Substitution:

If you’re unable to eliminate the hazard at its source, see if you can substitute it with a safer option.

Example:

  • Substitute a toxic chemical with a non-toxic solution (i.e., low-VOC paints).

Engineering Controls:

The third most effective way to protect yourself from a hazard is by implementing an engineering control – in other words, a system that helps you isolate yourself from the danger.

Examples:

  • Working at heights: Install guardrails and covers over holes.
  • Respiratory: Increase ventilation with fans or ducting for indoor hazards. Implement a dust control system that uses water to settle particulates on the ground for outdoor hazards.
  • Skin exposure: Implement a see-through barrier between the workstation and the hazard to minimize your risk of a chemical splash.

Administrative Controls:

If you cannot implement an engineered solution, you'll need to put administrative controls in place. Administrative controls can include warning labels, updating company policies and implementing training programs.

Examples:

  • Working at heights: Attend working-at-heights training.
  • Respiratory: Reduce your time exposure to the hazard by increasing breaks between work, adding additional personnel to a task and job sharing.
  • Skin exposure: Ensure that you read the SDS sheet for any chemicals you’re working with to understand their risks.
  • Electrical: Use a lock-out/tag out system to ensure no energy source is present.

lock out tag out label on door

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE is considered the last resort in the hierarchy of safety controls. Even though it's at the bottom of the list, it still plays a vital role in safety. Always be sure that you’re diligent in wearing the PPE that’s required for your job if a hazard is still present.

Examples:

  • Working at heights: Use a fall arrest system with a full-body harness and energy-absorbing lanyard.
  • Respiratory: Wear a respirator to protect yourself from hazardous gases, vapours and particulates.
  • Skin exposure: Wear protective clothing and gloves.
  • Hearing protection: Wear ear muffs or earplugs to block out sound.

man wearing fall protection harness

Whether it’s because the hazard is necessary on the worksite or is too costly to remove, it’s not always possible to eliminate a safety issue.

The hierarchy of safety controls can help walk you through the process needed to ensure that you and your team are safe at all times.

Are you looking for more information? Be sure to check out our infographic of The Hierarchy of Fall Protection.