The Hierarchy of Control

An important tool when carrying out risk assessments

Posted on: 24/08/2016   By: Lee Rance

When any risk assessment is carried out, the outcome should control the risks of what is being assessed to an acceptable level. Acceptable risk is where the risk of harm is insignificant without any workplace controls or is reduced so far as reasonably practicable following the introduction of some control measures.

Heirarchy of control

The Hierarchy of Control is the preferred series of measures to control risks. The measures should be considered in the following order:

  • Eliminate the risk, for example, can be something as simple using extendable pole system to clean windows to avoid climbing ladders.
  • Substitution involves replacing the hazardous material for something less hazardous e.g. replacing a solvent based paint for water based paint.
  • Engineering controls involves isolating people from the hazard e.g. guarding dangerous parts of a machine, erecting barriers around an excavation, enclosing noisy parts of a machine etc.
  • Administrative controls is changing to the way people work e.g. procedure changes, employee training, installation of signs and warning labels. Administrative controls limit or prevent the exposure to the hazard.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which include respirators, gloves, aprons, fall protection, and full body suits, as well as head, eye and foot protection.

PPE should always be considered as one of the last resorts because it does not reduce the hazard itself nor does it guarantee permanent or total protection. Although the benefits of using PPE can include the possible prevention of exposure and potentially minimising the risk should an exposure occur, there are also limitations. PPE only protects the individual wearing it, not anyone else in the workplace, discrepancy between theoretical and actual levels of protection provided exists (the latter is difficult to assess), PPE is only effective if correctly selected, fitted, used, and cared for, and the individual is trained, and the choice of PPE may compromise mobility, visibility, communication etc.

As we travel down to the narrow end of the triangle from the most effective control (Eliminate) to the least effective control (PPE) there is increasing participation and supervision required to make the controls effective but on the other hand if we travel up the triangle there becomes increasing effectiveness and sustainability.

It is the responsibility of management to design jobs safely or redesign them when a hazard is detected. The hierarchy of control is a great way 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.

Workers can be exposed to hazards that cause injuries and ill-health and tools like the hierarchy of control can help companies avoid this and in turn can reduce costs, minimise waste and errors, and prevent injuries and accidents. Adhering to this hierarchy will ensure that productivity is increased and business operations are running as efficiently as possible.

Until next time.

Lee Rance