What Is the Hierarchy of Controls? (Plus the 5 Stages of Safety Controls)

Many government agencies and institutions that develop, monitor, and enforce workplace safety guidelines and standards also consider the hierarchy of controls a best practice—if not the best practice—for keeping people safe. From the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to the National Safety Council (NSC), numerous organizations recommend that employers use the system when addressing workplace health and safety challenges.

The Hierarchy of Controls

5 stages of safety controls

Five key stages of safety controls are included within the hierarchy of controls. These stages are ranked by efficacy and are typically represented using an inverted triangle graph, which lists the stages from the most to least effective.

You can think of the five stages as defense mechanisms that prevent employees from interacting with or being impacted by occupational hazards:

1. Elimination

Elimination, or physically removing a hazard from a workplace, is the most effective stage of the hierarchy of controls. When hazards are eliminated or removed from a work environment, they no longer have the potential to negatively impact employees.

Though it’s conceptualized as the most effective stage, elimination is also typically the most challenging to implement, as doing so can be costly and require major overhauls in preexisting workplace processes.

Examples:

2. Substitution

Substitution, or replacing a hazardous item or activity with something less hazardous, is the second-most effective stage of safety control. Substitution serves a similar purpose to elimination, as it removes a hazard from the workplace or decreases the potential for the hazard to negatively affect employees. If a workplace process is still in its design or development phase, substitution can be an inexpensive and streamlined method for managing a hazard.

Examples:

3. Engineering controls

Engineering controls, or designing purposeful solutions that physically separate employees from hazards, are the third-most effective stage of safety control. Many organizations favor engineering controls to remove the hazard at the source, rather than after an employee comes into contact with a hazard. It’s important to note that while engineering controls can sometimes be costly to implement, they typically result in lower overall operating costs due to the new safety features.

Examples:

4. Administrative controls

Administrative controls, or changes to the way employees work and perform particular processes, are the fourth-most effective stage of safety control. Administrative controls are typically employed alongside other existing processes in which hazards are not totally controlled.

Organizations sometimes favor administrative controls due to their low-cost nature, but such initiatives are often somewhat ineffective and require significant effort on the part of affected employees.

Examples:

5. Personal protective equipment

Like administrative controls, PPE is typically used alongside preexisting processes that havent completely controlled the occupational hazard. Using PPE as a safety control is typically very costly in the long term and can be somewhat ineffective if worn or used improperly.

Examples:

What is the hierarchy of controls?

The hierarchy details five methods of varying effectiveness for controlling occupational hazards and emphasizes elimination or substitution of the hazardous object(s) first:.

Workplaces often combine all five methods of control to ensure thorough protection, even in the event that a single, high-level control mechanism fails.

Why is the hierarchy of controls important?

The hierarchy of controls is especially vital in occupations where employees come into regular contact with hazards like toxic chemicals, air pollutants, diseases and illnesses, structural or vehicle-related accidents and heavy machinery errors.

FAQ

What are the 5 hierarchy of controls?

Strategy for safety singles out hazards before work starts

NIOSH defines five rungs of the Hierarchy of Controls: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment.

What are the 7 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 are the 3 hierarchy of controls?

Key points. NIOSH defines five rungs of the Hierarchy of Controls: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment. The hierarchy is arranged beginning with the most effective controls and proceeds to the least effective.

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