Understanding Hierarchy of Controls | SafetyCulture (2023)

What is a Hazard?

When looking at dictionaries, hazard is often associated with the terms, “danger, peril, threat, and risk.” That’s why it’s understandable that many people use the terms hazard and risk interchangeably. A hazard can be an object, a material, a substance, a condition, a process, or even a behavior. Some examples are: temperature extremes, broken cutting tools that can cause injury or major accidents, and loose electricity wires that may cause shock or electrocution. For more information, check out the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) answers from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) on identifying the different kinds of hazards.

According to CCOHS, hazard identification should be done when:

  • During design and implementation
  • Designing a new process or procedure
  • Purchasing and installing new machinery
  • Before tasks are done
  • Checking equipment or following processes
  • Reviewing surroundings before each shift
  • While tasks are being done
  • There are changes, abnormal conditions, or sudden emissions
  • During inspections

What is Risk?

Risk is the likelihood or probability that a hazard will cause harm or adverse health effects, such as bodily injuries and diseases, on an individual if exposed to a hazard. The level of risk associated with an event can be determined by the likelihood of the event occurring and its potential consequences— or damage—it could cause.

Factors that influence the likelihood of risk as given by CCOHS are:

  • the nature of the exposure—example: extreme temperature exposure
  • how the person is exposed—example: inhaling poisonous chemicals
  • the severity of the effect—example: skin cancer or skin irritation

What are Control Measures?

There are different levels of hazard and risk. Some cause catastrophic consequences, like a loose power line or a car crash, while others are relatively minor, like a papercut. These hazards should also be addressed with different levels of solution.

Control measures are simply the protective steps made to remove the hazard or risk, or at least minimize it to the lowest level possible. They are put in place as part of a control of work system in order to minimize the probability or consequences of an incident. As a significant part of risk assessments performed by organizations, control measures set out the actions that must be followed to protect employees and other people in the area.

For most workplaces, a systematized approach to controlling hazards and risks is needed. When deciding on what actions to implement, you should use the principles of control. Control measures often refer to the hierarchy of control measures—a systematized hazard prevention strategy.

Hierarchy of Controls

The systematized control measure approach used by companies of all kinds, sizes, and industries to protect people in the workplace is called the hierarchy of controls. The “Hierarchy” is a basic principle that is widely-accepted by health and safety professionals choosing the best ways to reduce the risk of any hazard. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Safety Council (NSC) recommend adherence to this strategy to ensure safety in the work environment.

(Video) HIERARCHY of CONTROL Health and Safety | 5 Steps EXPLAINED!

History of Hierarchy of Controls

Safety was mostly a matter of trial and error before the 1940s. At that time, the predominant methodology applied during the design and testing phase of experimental aircraft was called “fly-fix-fly.”It was a method wherein an aircraft makes a circuit and if it breaks, they fix it and fly it all over again until the root of the issue is discovered and resolved. This method was unreliable and dangerous as it caused injuries and other fatalities. A better system was needed to replace it.

It was in 1950 when the NSC began introducing a safety system known as the “hierarchy of controls,” in which the goal is to control exposures to hazards and risks as a way of protecting workers. The concept of the hierarchy dates back to the creation of OSHA by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970 and of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH launched a national initiative called Prevention through Design (PtD) in 2017.

Prevention through Design (PtD)

Prevention through design (PtD), commonly called “safety by design” in Europe, is the process of “designing out” with the concept of safety or reduction of occupational hazards in mind and with an emphasis on employees’ health and safety throughout the life cycle of materials and processes.

5 Levels of Hierarchy in Eliminating Hazards and Risks

The control measures in the hierarchy are placed in order of their effectiveness. These stages can be considered as lines of defense.

  1. Elimination: Removing the hazard or risk entirely
  2. Substitution: Replacing the hazard with a safer alternative
  3. Engineering Controls: Replacing equipment, including a mechanical device, or process, or changing the work environment to separate workers from a hazard
  4. Administrative Controls: Developing procedures and processes for working safely under anticipated conditions
  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Equipping workers with protective gears designed to reduce risk and severity of injuries

Why Use the Hierarchy of Controls?

Since its introduction in the 1950s, the hierarchy of controls has remained central to workplace safety laws and regulations.

(Video) Hierarchy of Controls: Managing Risk in the Workplace

The hierarchy of controls is undeniably linked to workplace safety. Using the hierarchy is not only for safety—it’s one of the best ways employers can protect their workers and control risks more effectively rather than simply letting incidents happen. The hierarchy also serves as a template for organizations on how to minimize hazards and risks for preventing incidents and fatalities.

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Using the Hierarchy of Controls

The idea behind the step-by-step approach to reducing hazards and controlling risks is that those measures at the top of the graphic are potentially more effective and protective, but the hardest to implement (e.g., eliminating a virus that caused a pandemic) than those at the bottom. The controls are ranked from the most protective to the least protective and also least effective.

1. Elimination

Elimination is the removal of the hazard completely and is the highest level of protection and the most effective control measure.

(Video) The Hierarchy of Controls

How to use: The source of hazard can be taken out of the environment or workplace entirely.

Example: Remove chemicals that could cause a severe irritation to the skin.

2. Substitution

Substitution is the replacement of hazards with safer alternatives.

How to use: If eliminating the source of the hazard is not possible, the next level of defense is to substitute or replace it with a less hazardous source—thus minimizing the level of injuries or adverse effects on a person’s health.

Example: Replace solvent-based paint with water-based paint.

3. Engineering Controls

Engineering controls involve replacing equipment and processes or changing the work environment to separate or isolate workers from exposure to the hazard.

How to use: Given a source of hazard that can’t be removed from the environment or can’t be replaced with a safer option, management and employers may implement the next level in the funnel—reducing the risks through engineering changes or changes in the process or building.

Example: Use remote controls to operate machines.

(Video) The Hierarchy of Controls

4. Administrative Controls

Administrative controls refer to any training, practice, policy, or design changes that reduces an individual’s exposure to a hazard. This is a low level of protection and less reliable control.

How to use: If the implementation of an engineered solution is impossible, then the implementation of administrative controls is the next line of defense. This involves the use of warning labels, changes to corporate policy, and conducting workshops or training sessions.

Example: Develop guidelines on how to use the machines and tools safely.

5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE refers to anything workers use or wear to reduce risks to their health and safety. This is the last line of defense in the hierarchy, the lowest level of protection, and the least reliable control.

How to use: Workers should wear protective gear such as ear plugs, goggles, face masks, respirators, gloves, aprons, safety harnesses, bodysuits, and others.

Example: Provide respirators to protect workers from inhaling toxic gases, fumes, and pollutants.

Managements or employers may consider using various controls in addressing hazards and minimizing risks.

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(Video) Hierarchy of Controls

SafetyCulture is one of the best tools for risk assessment and is used by industries in manufacturing, construction, hospitality, retail, and more. Below are more ways SafetyCulture helps in adhering to the hierarchy of controls:

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  • Conduct risk assessments and inspections in the preoperational stages, operational stages, and post-incident stages of the process more efficiently through a more convenient way of collecting data and reporting.
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How do you explain the hierarchy of controls? ›

The hierarchy of control is a system for controlling risks in the workplace. The hierarchy of control is a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks and it ranks risk controls from the highest level of protection and reliability through to the lowest and least reliable protection.

What is hierarchy of control OSHA? ›

Select controls according to a hierarchy that emphasizes engineering solutions (including elimination or substitution) first, followed by safe work practices, administrative controls, and finally personal protective equipment.

Why is PPE at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls? ›

PPE is found at the bottom of the hierarchy of hazard controls because it is designed to protect the employee once the hazard comes into contact with them, not prevent the hazard from happening.

How the hierarchy of control can help with workplace health and safety? ›

The hierarchy of control measures requires that you first aim to eliminate a risk. For example, using cordless vacuum cleaners to eliminate an identified trip hazard. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate a risk, you must minimise the risk.

What is the most effective measure in the hierarchy of controls? ›

The most effective control measure involves eliminating the hazard and associated risk. The best way to do this is to remove or eliminate the hazard from the workplace or process altogether, so the hazard is no longer present; this could also include changing processes.

Why is hierarchy of control important? ›

The hierarchy of control creates a systematic approach to managing safety in your workplace by providing a structure to select the most effective control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of specific hazards identified as being caused by the operations of the business.

What are the six levels in hierarchy of control from most effective to least effective? ›

The five steps in the hierarchy of controls, from most effective to least effective, are elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment.

What is the most important type of safety control? ›

Elimination is the process of removing the hazard from the workplace. It is the most effective way to control a risk because the hazard is no longer present. It is the preferred way to control a hazard and should be used whenever possible.

When should PPE be used in the hierarchy of control? ›

Hierarchy of controls

PPE should be the last resort to protect against risks. Consider controls in the following order, with elimination being the most effective and PPE being the least effective: Elimination – physically remove the hazard.

Which is the first principle of the hierarchy of control moving and handling? ›

At the top of the Hierarchy of Controls, we start with the most effective option – Elimination.

What is the hierarchy of control for manual handling? ›

The 5 hierarchies of control consist of; elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

What is the first step in controlling workplace hazard? ›

The first step in ensuring a safe workplace is to identify hazards. There are a number of ways to find hazards in your workplace: ask workers and contractors in your workplace about any hazards they may have noticed.

What are the 5 maintaining risk control measures? ›

Some practical steps you could take include:
  • trying a less risky option.
  • preventing access to the hazards.
  • organising your work to reduce exposure to the hazard.
  • issuing protective equipment.
  • providing welfare facilities such as first-aid and washing facilities.
  • involving and consulting with workers.
Sep 6, 2022

What is the last resort for controlling a hazard? ›

Personal protective equipment is to be used as a control measure as a last resort. It does not eliminate the hazard and will present the wearer with the maximum health risk if the equipment fails.

What order does a nurse put on PPE? ›

The procedure for putting on and removing PPE should be tailored to the specific type of PPE.
  1. GOWN. • Fully cover torso from neck to knees, arms. ...
  2. MASK OR RESPIRATOR. • Secure ties or elastic bands at middle. ...
  4. GLOVES. ...
  5. GLOVES. ...
  7. GOWN. ...

What are the three steps to control hazards? ›

There are three steps used to manage health and safety at work.
  1. Spot the Hazard (Hazard Identification)
  2. Assess the Risk (Risk Assessment)
  3. Make the Changes (Risk Control)
Oct 9, 2018

Why is hierarchy important in the workplace? ›

Hierarchy ensures accountability

An effective hierarchy makes leaders accountable for results, and provisions for their replacing failures with someone new — sometimes through internal promotion. That's how hierarchy ultimately serve the success of the organisation as whole — including owners, managers, and employees.

What is the most effective and sustainable control in the hierarchy of hazard control? ›

The chart identifies the preferred way to control a hazard from the most effective which is elimination. Then the order follows the next preferred method using Substitution, then Engineering Controls, Administrative Controls then the least effective, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

What are the first two methods in the hierarchy of control? ›

The hierarchy starts with the controls perceived to be most effective and moves down to those considered least effective. As defined by NIOSH, it flows as follows: Elimination – Physically remove the hazard. Substitution – Replace the hazard.

What is step 1 of the 5 steps to risk assessment? ›

You can do it yourself or appoint a competent person to help you.
  • Identify hazards.
  • Assess the risks.
  • Control the risks.
  • Record your findings.
  • Review the controls.
Oct 10, 2022

What is the first hierarchy of control? ›

At the top of the Hierarchy of Controls, we start with the most effective option – Elimination.

What are the 4 key areas of control? ›

Organizational control typically involves four steps: (1) establish standards, (2) measure performance, (3) compare performance to standards, and then (4) take corrective action as needed.

What are the three key elements of control? ›

Three basic types of control systems are available to executives: (1) output control, (2) behavioural control, and (3) clan control. Different organizations emphasize different types of control, but most organizations use a mix of all three types.

What are the 9 common internal controls? ›

Here are controls: Strong tone at the top; Leadership communicates importance of quality; Accounts reconciled monthly; Leaders review financial results; Log-in credentials; Limits on check signing; Physical access to cash, Inventory; Invoices marked paid to avoid double payment; and, Payroll reviewed by leaders.

What are the 4 Ts of risk management? ›

There are always several options for managing risk. A good way to summarise the different responses is with the 4Ts of risk management: tolerate, terminate, treat and transfer.

What are the four pillars of risk control? ›

The 4 Pillars of risk Management is an approach to the planning and delivery of risk management developed by Professor Hazel Kemshall at De Montfort University. The model is based on the four pillars of Supervision, Monitoring & Control, Interventions and Treatment and Victim Safety Planning.

What are 5 things you should do prior to implementing risk controls? ›

The following provides a brief outline of the 5-step process requirements.
  • Step 1 – Identify hazards.
  • Step 2 – Assess hazards to determine risk.
  • Step 3 – Develop controls and make risk decisions.
  • Step 4 – Implement controls.
  • Step 5 – Supervise and evaluate. ...
  • STEP 1 (cont.)

What are the 3 types of risks? ›

Types of Risks

Widely, risks can be classified into three types: Business Risk, Non-Business Risk, and Financial Risk.

What is a 5x5 risk assessment? ›

What is a 5x5 Risk Matrix? A type of risk matrix that is visually represented as a table or a grid, a 5x5 risk matrix has 5 categories each for probability (along the X axis) and impact (along the Y axis), all following a scale of low to high.

How do you identify hazards and risks? ›

To be sure that all hazards are found:
  1. Look at all aspects of the work and include non-routine activities such as maintenance, repair, or cleaning.
  2. Look at the physical work environment, equipment, materials, products, etc. ...
  3. Include how the tasks are done.
  4. Look at injury and incident records.
May 4, 2018


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