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The 5 Levels of the Hierarchy of Controls Explained

The Hierarchy of Controls
  • The hierarchy of controls is a system for classifying safety measures in order of effectiveness. It can be used to help you choose the best way to prevent workplace hazards on an everyday basis.

    In this blog post, we’re sharing everything you need to know about the hierarchy of controls, including its definition, levels, examples, and top tips for implementation.

    What is the hierarchy of controls?

    Developed by OSHA, the hierarchy of controls is a system for ranking the effectiveness of various safety measures. It is often used as a framework by safety professionals to determine which measures should be taken to control a particular hazard.

    Why use the hierarchy of controls?

    The hierarchy of controls is a useful tool for safety professionals to identify the most effective way to control a particular hazard.

    By using the hierarchy of controls, employers can ensure that they are taking the most effective measures to protect their employees from hazards.

    When faced with a particular hazard in the workplace, use the hierarchy of hazard control as a step-by-step process to determine the best course of action for controlling or eliminating the hazard.

    The hierarchy of controls is also a helpful tool for developing a hazard control plan, where you can implement the selected controls in the workplace.

    What are the 5 levels of the hierarchy of controls?

    The hierarchy of controls is an inverted pyramid with five levels, from most effective to least effective:

    1. Elimination
    2. Substitution
    3. Engineering Controls
    4. Administrative Controls
    5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    Each level of control is designed to reduce the exposure to a particular hazard.

    The Hierarchy of Controls Pyramid

    The 5 Levels of the Hierarchy of Controls Explained

    Let’s take a closer look at each level of the hierarchy of safety controls:

    1. Elimination

    Elimination is the first level in the hierarchy of control and is considered the most effective way to control a hazard. This involves completely removing the hazard from the workplace. By eliminating a hazard all together, any potential harm or injury is prevented from happening.

    Elimination Example: If a machine is causing excessive noise, it can be eliminated by replacing it with a quieter model.

    2. Substitution

    Substitution is the second most effective method of controlling a hazard. This involves replacing a hazardous material, ingredient, or piece of equipment with a less dangerous one. The idea is to replace an occupational risk with something that has no risk or very little risk.

    Substitution Example: If a chemical is causing skin irritation, it can be replaced with a less irritating chemical.

    3. Engineering Controls

    Engineering controls are the third level of control. Engineering controls involve isolating a hazard or changing the way a task is performed to reduce exposure to a hazard. This often involves adding safety measures to make the work easier such as installing machine guards.

    Engineering Controls Example: Installing ventilation to remove fumes from the air is an example of an engineering control.

    4. Administrative Controls

    Administrative controls are the fourth level of control. Administrative controls involve changing work practices or making adjustments to work tasks to reduce exposure to a hazard. This may involve making changes to operational processes, work schedules, or introducing signage or warnings in the workplace.

    Administrative Controls Example: Requiring employees to take breaks every 20 minutes when working with a loud machine is an example of an administrative control.

    5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the fifth level of control and is the least effective method of controlling a hazard. PPE should only be used as the last line of defense and when other methods of control are not possible or effective.

    PPE Example: PPE includes clothing, gloves, and other items that protect the body from exposure to a hazard.

    Tips for Using the Hierarchy of Controls

    These are some important tips to be aware of when using the hierarchy of controls:

    1. Use interim controls: If more time is needed to implement long-term solutions, the hierarchy of controls should be used from the top down as interim controls in the meantime.
    2. Avoid introducing new hazards: One important thing to keep in mind is that the selected controls should never directly or indirectly introduce new hazards. Make sure to perform a thorough safety analysis before implementing the selected controls.
    3. Use a combination of controls: If there is no single method that will fully protect workers, then a combination of controls should be used.

    I hope this has helped to give you a better understanding of the hierarchy of controls. When used correctly, it can be an effective tool to eliminate and control hazards in the workplace.

    If you have any questions about the hierarchy of controls or need assistance with your safety program, feel free to contact us today.

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