In the 1950’s the National Safety Council developed the concept of a hierarchy of controls, to demonstrate that workplace hazards can be controlled, and thereby reduced or eliminated.
This work led to the 1970 OSH Act, and the hierarchy of controls became a core concept for the newly-created Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
What is a Hierarchy?
The word hierarchy refers to a system in which people or things are ranked according to their importance. In workplace safety, the concept of a hierarchy helps managers organize risks and protective measures, working from the most effective to the least effective controls. Emergent Safety is always focused on this hierarchy and aims to help customers eliminate hazards.
The five key elements of the hierarchy of controls are:
- Elimination – Get rid of the hazardous method or substance.
- Substitution – Switch to a method or substance with lower risk.
- Engineering Controls – Design a way to isolate workers from the risk.
- Administrative Controls – Set procedures and policies for work safety.
- Personal Protective Equipment – Provide workers with safety gear.
The objective is to identify the highest risks and align the organization to develop a comprehensive top-to-bottom strategy for the protection of workers.
Identify Your Workplace Hazards
The most common workplace hazards include falling, breathing toxic smoke or fumes, eye and hand injuries, exposure to dangerous chemicals and machinery hazards. However, at this writing, the most widespread workplace hazard is the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 as an Example of Risk Control
Here’s how a company might use the five elements of the hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk of infection for their workers.
Step 1: Elimination
The ideal solution would be to eliminate all risk from COVID-19 by developing a cure. While this may not be feasible, vaccines can now eliminate up to 95% of the risk for any worker who is vaccinated.
Step 2: Substitution
The widespread adoption of remote work has been highly effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The worker’s home is substituted for the office…or a teacher and student engage online with a virtual substitute for the classroom. Substitution is not as strong as elimination, but it is the next best tactic.
Step 3: Engineering Controls
Just as companies can use engineering to improve machine safety or to add guardrails to prevent falls, engineering solutions for COVID-19 include glass dividers, floor markings, improved ventilation and outdoor seating. If a risk cannot be eliminated or substituted, then engineered solutions afford the next strongest protection, as they change procedures in ways which cannot be easily circumvented.
Step 4: Administrative Controls
Management can set work procedures and policies, along with rules for temperature checks, mask wearing, rotating lunch breaks and distancing. However, even mandatory rules can only change behavior through compliance, so administrative controls are not as strong as engineered solutions.
Step 5: Personal Protective Equipment
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, companies can provide masks, face shields, gloves and sanitizing stations. These are all good techniques. However, as their correct use is entirely up to the individual worker, they are the weakest form of protection.
How to Get Started
- Identify Your Risks – Use safety records to document all risks and rank them by severity.
- Start at the Top – Which hazards in your workplace create the highest levels of risk?
- Try for Elimination – Again, this is the strongest control, so brainstorm creative solutions.
- Use all Five Keys – Even when a strong control is feasible, add all of the other controls as well.
- Train & Train Again – Make sure workers know (and use) the new methods, rules and tools.
Let us help you with your safety hierarchy, call Emergent Safety Supply today.