The hierarchy of controls tells us how to make a workspace safe

Hierarchy of Control in Action: A Case Study

A few weeks ago we made a post about NIOSH’s Hierarchy of Control, but how does the Hierarchy actually work?

An example of the Hierarchy of Controls is in a warehouse which is constructing office space. Some of these offices will be on the second floor. Due to space constraints the staircase leading up is steep. On one side this staircase is flush against the wall, the other is open space.

You can eliminate this hazard by moving the office space down to the first floor taking out the need for the stairs at all. If the office is already built this will be very expensive. As well space on the warehouse floor may be at a premium making it impractical.

For substitution we look to find something else to go in place of the staircase. An elevator would be a space efficient possibility. Additionally a longer, less steep staircase with walls on both sides would work.

Like the elimination example, these substitutions could be expensive if you build everything first. These solutions might need a major redesign and rebuild. Use of space may still be a concern with the longer staircase.

Engineering Controls may provide the best solution in this case. Adding a guard rail would mitigate the fall danger by providing a barrier to the open space as well as giving workers something to hold on to as they descend or ascend the stairs.

Less Effective Methods in the Hierarchy of Control 

An Administrative Controls solution would consist of a sign and a line painted near the edge of the staircase. This would be very cheap but the spot would also likely still have accidents. Depending on the jurisdiction it may also violate OSHA requirements.

PPE would see the use of harnesses or protective padding. In this case it would not be very effective and may be difficult to manage.

The process of finding a solution should stop once there is a working solution to impliment. For example once you have the Engineering Controls solution there would be no need to look at Administrative Controls or PPE.

The Hierarchy of Controls is an adaptive tool you can apply to any situation where hazards exist. NIOSH recommends using it in a group environment to ensure the most voices possible.

Further information on the Hierarchy of Controls can be found on NIOSH’s website.

December 3, 2020
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