NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls

The Hierarchy of Controls in a Safe Work Environment

Workplace safety is an issue for all companies. Not only are there laws and regulations which you must follow but keeping workers safe is the right thing to do. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has made the Hierarchy of Controls to assist in this process.

The hierarchy is depicted by a triangle with its point facing downward. The triangle has five layers. Each layer represents a way of increasing safety, with those to the top of the triangle being most effective, and the layers at the bottom being the least effective – though usually the cheapest and easiest to implement.

The Top of the Hierarchy of Controls

The top level of the triangle is Elimination. Can you get rid of the hazard? If workers are near a hole can you cover it so it is no longer a fall risk?

Next is Substitution. This group looks for ways to replace the hazard. Is there gas in the work space? Can you work where there is less gas?

Unlike elimination substitution does not get rid of the hazard, the danger may still exist but will be less.

In the middle of the triangle is Engineering Controls. The purpose of this group is to keep workers (and potentially others) away from the hazard. Engineering controls might take the form of Guard Rails around holes or at the edge of steep cliffs. They could also be noise suppressants on loud machinery.

With Engineering Controls the hazard is still there but workers will be able to avoid it with ease.

Administrative Controls and PPE

Going down to the next rung of the hierarchy is Administrative Controls. In the short term these are typically cheaper to use at first but may cost more over time. The long term costs are often related to reduced safety.

Administrative Controls do not do lessen the hazard but instead direct workers to work in such a way that they can avoid it. An example of this is a line painted on the ground warning people to stand back.

This form of safety control still depends on individuals to follow the directions and requires workers to be aware of their environment to a much higher degree than engineering controls.

On the bottom of the triangle is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes equipment such as harnesses or respiratory protection. Using PPE means there is still a hazard. When PPE is in use it indicates a higher level of risk and safety depends on the maintenance and care of the PPE.

Employers should approach the Hierarchy of Controls from the top down. It is best to implement Solutions for Elimination and Substitution during the design phase. It can be expensive and impractical to implement at a later point.

In Safety+Health, the official magazine of the National Safety Council Congress and Expo they recommend making solutions a collaborative effort of all staff to ensure diverse opinions driven from a wide range of experience.

With this tool at your disposal a safe workplace is attainable.

October 22, 2020
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