The Hierarchy of Controls or risk hierarchy is a system used in workplace environments to minimize or eliminate exposure to hazards. It is a widely accepted system promoted by safety organizations.
As discussed in the podcast, we recommend you check our Health and Safety Risk Assessment – Complete Beginner’s Guide resource.
The risk control concept is taught to managers in industry, to be promoted as standard practice in the workplace. Various illustrations are used to depict this system, most commonly a triangle. Let’s take look at what it looks like…
Hierarchy of Control: The Triangle
The levels in the risk hierarchy of control measures are, in order of decreasing effectiveness:
- Engineering controls
- Administrative controls
- Personal protective equipment
Hierarchy of Controls Explained: Part 1
As you see above the Hierarchy of Controls is often represented by a triangular diagram that depicts the different controls in order of how effective they might be in controlling risk. Our 2-part video series below looks at these options in much more detail…
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Hierarchy of Control Explained: Part 2
Of course, as we move further down the pyramid, our control measures become less effective.
Once we have exhausted the ‘engineering’ options, we are then becoming much more dependent on human behaviours to reduce the risk.
Let’s take a look at what this looks like in practice…
HSE Hierarchy of Controls 5 Steps: Recap
Hopefully our video has given you a valuable overview of the hierarchy of controls – now, let’s recap on those different levels of control, starting from the most effective.
Physical removal of the hazard — this is the most effective hazard control.
For example, if employees must work high above the ground, the hazard can be eliminated by moving the piece they are working on to ground level to eliminate the need to work at heights.
Substitution, the second most effective hazard control, involves replacing something that produces a hazard (similar to elimination) with something that does not produce a hazard—for example, replacing lead-based paint with titanium white.
To be an effective control, the new product must not produce another hazard. As airborne dust can be hazardous, if a product can be purchased with a larger particle size, the smaller product may effectively be substituted with the larger product.
3. Engineering Controls:
The third most effective means of risk control is engineered controls. These do not eliminate hazards, but rather isolate people from hazards.
Capital costs of engineered controls tend to be higher than less effective controls in the hierarchy, however they may reduce future costs.
For example, a crew might build a work platform rather than purchase, replace, and maintain fall arrest equipment.
“Enclosure and isolation” creates a physical barrier between personnel and hazards, such as using remotely controlled equipment. Fume hoods can remove airborne contaminants as a means of engineered control.
4. Administrative controls:
Administrative controls are changes to the way people work. Examples of administrative controls include procedure changes, employee training, and installation of signs and warning labels (such as those in the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System).
Administrative controls do not remove hazards, but limit or prevent people’s exposure to the hazards, such as completing road construction at night when fewer people are driving.
5. Personal Protective Equipment:
PPE is the least effective means of controlling hazards because of the high potential for damage to render PPE ineffective. Additionally, some PPE, such as respirators, increase physiological effort to complete a task and, therefore, may require medical examinations to ensure workers can use the PPE without risking their health.
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Thanks for visiting us, we hope this resource on the HSE Hierarchy of Control was helpful. If you would like to learn how this fits into the bigger picture of assessing risk, we recommend you check our Health and Safety Risk Assessment – Complete Beginner’s Guide resource.
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