The hierarchy of safety controls outlines the steps you should take, and in which order, to minimize or eliminate a hazard from your workplace. It is a wonderful tool for its simplicity and effectiveness.

In this post, we’ll outline each of the steps, provide some background information and a few examples of what the resolution might look like in your workplace.

The hierarchy of safety controls:

hierarchy of controls

Elimination:

The first step you must take is to eliminate the hazard from your workplace. This is the best option for improving safety in your workplace.

Examples:

  • Working at heights: Try performing the task at ground level rather than working from an elevated position. Solutions can include using an extension pole (for changing lightbulbs), a drone (to investigate an issue) or relocating hardware.
  • Respiratory: Determine whether a chemical or particulate hazard is required for the desired outcome. If the answer is no, then remove the product that is presenting the threat.
  • Skin exposure: Eliminate chemicals that may cause a dangerous skin reaction.

Substitution:

If you’re unable to eliminate the hazard at its source, see if you can substitute it with a less hazardous 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 hazard.
Examples:

  • Working at heights: Install guardrails and covers over holes.
  • Respiratory: For indoor hazards, try to increase ventilation with fans or ducting. For outdoor dust hazards, implement a dust control system that uses water to settle particulates on the ground.
  • 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’re unable to implement an engineered solution, it’s important to put administrative controls into 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 the amount of time that you are exposed to the hazard. This can be achieved 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 fully understand their risks.
  • Electrical: Use a lock out/tag out system to ensure there is no energy source present.

lock out tag out label on door

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

If, and only if, you are unable to lessen a hazard using any of the means listed above, should you reach for PPE. 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 a necessity on the worksite or is too costly to remove, it’s not always possible to completely 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.

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

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Julie McFater

Director of Marketing

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