The current global labor force stands at about 2,600 million and this figure is continuously increasing as another 40 million people join each year. According to the World Health Organization, many people spend the majority of their time at work, increasing their exposure to hazardous activities, materials and substances. In light of this, one of the most popular workplace safety jargons today is the Hierarchy of Hazard Control. It is a term that's frequently associated with safety management systems that are structured around hazard management in the world of work.

What Is the Hierarchy of Hazard Control?

The Hierarchy of Hazard Control seeks to protect workers by ranking the ways in which hazards can be controlled, providing employers with a framework for reducing the risk to employees. The hierarchy is as follows, where the highest items have the greatest effect on improving safety outcomes.

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Isolation
  4. Engineering Controls
  5. Administrative Controls
  6. Personal Protective Equipment
The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Let's look at what each level of the hierarchy entails.

1.Eliminate the Hazard

The best way to control a hazard is to eliminate it. This can be achieved by making changes to the work process so that the task is no longer carried out, or by physically removing the hazard altogether. Elimination is the most effective way to control hazards and should be used whenever possible. However, it can also be the most difficult to implement, especially if the process is still at the design or development stage. For example, dangerous machinery is often required, and while it can be made safer, it can't be eliminated.

2. Substitute One Risk for a Lesser One

Substitution is the second most effective method for controlling hazards. It is similar to elimination but involves the substitution of one risk for another. For example, one hazardous chemical could be swapped for one with less risk. However, for substitution to be effective, the new replacement must not produce greater hazard. Another type of substitution involves using the same chemical, but in a different form; for example, a chemical in its powder form can be more hazardous (inhalation hazard) than in its pellet form.

3.Isolate the Hazard From the Person at Risk

Isolation involves separating the hazard in time or space from the person or persons at risk. This can be achieved by isolating the hazard through containment or enclosure. These methods aim to keep the hazard "in" and the worker "out" or vice versa. For example, an enclosure can be built around a piece of equipment to reduce the hazards associated with noise.

4. Use Engineering Controls

If a hazard cannot be eliminated nor isolated and a safer substitute cannot be found, the next best approach is the use of engineering controls. Engineering controls are implemented by making changes to the design of an equipment or process to minimize its hazard. Although engineering controls are the most expensive solution, they provide the advantage of reducing future cost. The two basic types of engineering controls are process control and ventilation. Process control involves changing the way a job activity or process is performed to reduce hazards, such as the use of electric motors rather than diesel motors to eliminate diesel exhaust emissions. Ventilation is a method of control that strategically "adds" and "removes" air in the work environment, such as the use of local exhaust fans to control titanium dioxide dust in a paint manufacturing factory.

5.Use Administrative Controls

If engineering controls cannot be implemented, administrative controls should be considered. However, because they do not actually remove or reduce the hazards, they are less effective in comparison to other control measures in the hierarchy. There are usually also many difficulties associated with the implementation and maintenance of control measures. Administrative controls involve making changes to the way in which people work and promoting safe work practices via education and training. Administrative controls may involve training employees in operating procedures, good housekeeping practices, emergency response in the event of incidents such as fire or employee injury, and personal hygiene practices such as the washing of hands after contact with hazardous materials.

6.Use Personal Protection

This is the least effective method of controlling hazards because of the high potential that personal protective equipment (PPE) will become damaged. If PPE is inadequate or fails, the worker is not protected. PPE can also often be uncomfortable, which can place an additional physical burden on the worker. Therefore, PPE should only be used in combination with other control measures from the hierarchy or if there are no other more effective ways to control the hazard. Examples of personal protective equipment include respirators, gloves, protective clothing, hard hats, goggles and ear plugs. (Learn more about PPE and how to use it in 6 Personal Protective Equipment Guidelines Every Employee Should Know.)

The Role of Management

It is the responsibility of management to design jobs safely or redesign them when a hazard is detected. Management should, therefore, gain a sufficient understanding of the Hierarchy of Hazard Control to ensure that the most appropriate control measure is selected and is working effectively in reducing or eliminating hazards and preventing injuries or accidents in the workplace. However, selecting an appropriate control measure is not always easy. It often involves conducting a risk assessment to evaluate and prioritize the hazards and their risks.

The Role of Employees

It is the role of employees to promote the use of the Hierarchy of Hazard Control to ensure that management is providing the most effective methods of hazard control. It is also important for employees to maintain an open line of communication with management regarding potential hazards and the manner in which they should be controlled.

Why Follow the Hierarchy?

Although work contributes to economic achievements, the work environment can expose workers to hazards that give rise to injuries and diseases. Strategic tools like the Hierarchy of Hazard Control can help companies tackle some of the most demanding challenges of modern business by reducing costs, minimizing waste and errors, and preventing injuries and accidents. Furthermore, adhering to this hierarchy will ensure that productivity is increased and business operations are running as efficiently as possible.