The Hierarchy of Controls

A hazardous substance splashes onto a chemical plant operator taking a sample. The worker is not seriously injured, and the ensuing investigation focuses on training, personal protective equipment and the particulars of the sampling station.

But did anyone ever ask whether the worker needed to take the sample at all?

Identifying and mitigating exposures to occupational hazards before work begins is the objective of all safety and health professionals. NIOSH offers a basic outline through its interpretation of the Hierarchy of Controls.

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
  • Engineering controls – Isolate people from the hazard
  • Administrative controls – Change the way people work
  • Personal protective equipment– Protect the worker with PPE

“You can’t eliminate every hazard, but the closer you can get to the top, the closer you can reach that ideal and make people healthier and safer,” said Jonathan Bach, director of NIOSH’s Prevention through Design Initiative.

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