What are hazard controls?

Hazard controls are various types of steps that can be taken to limit or even eliminate various hazards in the workplace. These steps are organized into a hierarchy of controls, so people can attempt to perform the most effective option first, and then go down the list until they reach the bottom. In some cases it is necessary to implement items at more than one level of this hierarchy of hazard controls in order to get the desired results.

What is the Hierarchy of Controls?

The hierarchy of controls is typically displayed as a triangle with the broadest part at the top, and the point at the bottom. Along the top section of the triangle is the best type of hazard control that should be used whenever possible. Then as the triangle narrows, the other options are listed in order of desirability. The following are the control options in order from top to bottom in terms of desirability:

  • Elimination – Eliminating a hazard is the best possible option, though it often isn’t practical. For example, if there is a flammable item near a machine that gets hot, it is best to eliminate the hazard by removing it from the area so that the risk is entirely gone.
  • Substitution – Similar to elimination, this option replaces the hazardous item with another item that is not hazardous, or at least less hazardous. In the example of a flammable item used above, it may be possible to remove the flammable item from the area and replace it with something that won’t burn.
  • Engineering Controls – The next best option is to put in engineering controls to address the hazard. Using the same situation as above, an engineering control may include placing a heat shield around the item so that it can remain in place, but not be exposed to the dangerous heat.
  • Administrative Controls – When none of the above options are possible or practical, the next option is to implement procedures or policies that will minimize the risk of the hazardous event from taking place. This could include putting up safety signs, floor markings, or making a policy that instructs employees on how to avoid a hazard.
  • Personal Protection Equipment – The final option is to make sure that employees are using personal protection equipment, or PPE. At this level the hazard is still there, but in the event that the dangerous situation occurs, employees will be as protected as possible thanks to the PPE.

In general, the higher items on a list will be more costly and less convenient, but more effective. Employers need to find the right balance between safety and being able to operate their business. To the extent possible, using controls at the higher end of this list is encouraged.


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