When the COVID-19 pandemic first began to ripple worldwide, employers scrambled to instill new controls to reduce the risk of transmission.
The planet underwent a massive shift as it transitioned towards remote work. The move was to limit in-person interactions, stagger shifts and reorganize manufacturing floors to reduce contact among workers. At the same time, companies have improved their sanitation practices and added some upgrades to their ventilation systems. They also implemented new rules such as wearing masks in the workplace to minimize the spread of the virus.
While it’s the correct response to a global health crisis, these actions are also the perfect example of the “Hierarchy of Controls.” Agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highly recommend companies use the hierarchy of controls to focus on the highest impact controls and boost safety management while reducing workplace accidents and injuries.
In this article, we’re looking at the hierarchy of controls, exploring each type of control and how to use them.
What is The Hierarchy of Controls?
The hierarchy of controls is a workplace safety approach that includes a list of control measures, ordered from most to least effective. The goal is to reduce or eliminate exposure to hazards by first using the most effective controls. These protective structures are divided into five stages, in order of most to least effective: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Let’s take a look at each one in more detail.
The first step is to identify the hazard and then work to remove it from the workplace entirely. This can be done by redesigning the processor using different materials that don’t present the same hazard. For example, if a company uses a toxic chemical in its manufacturing process, it could look for a less hazardous substitute. Or, if there’s a machine that emits loud noise, they might redesign it to make it quieter.
If elimination isn’t possible or practical, the next step is substitution. This involves replacing the hazard with a less hazardous one. For example, if a company can’t eliminate exposure to loud noise, they might substitute earplugs for headphones. Or, if they can’t remove a toxic chemical, they might use a less hazardous one instead.
Engineering controls are designed to remove or isolate hazards from the workplace. For example, a company might install ventilation systems to remove airborne contaminants. Or, they might use guards and barriers to physically separate workers from hazards.
Administrative controls are changes to working procedures or schedules that can reduce exposure to hazards. For example, a company might stagger shifts so that fewer workers are exposed to the hazard at one time. They might also develop new work procedures that minimize exposure to the hazard.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is the last line of defense against hazards. It includes clothing, devices, and other gear that workers can use to protect themselves from exposure to hazards. For example, workers might wear gloves, respirators, or earplugs to protect themselves from exposure to a hazard.
Where Did the Hierarchy of Controls Come From?
For decades, the hierarchy of controls has been around, informing countless workplace safety laws and practices. In fact, the safety concept predates the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, the act that created OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The hierarchy of controls was first coined during the 1950s by the National Security Council (NSC), the NSC utilized the concept to show companies and businesses that occupational safety hazards can be managed and controlled. It also demonstrates that certain control measures are more effective than others. These early conversations helped shape what we know about the OSHA Act, OSHA, and NIOSH today.
Decades after its inception, the hierarchy of controls has remained an important aspect of workplace safety laws, industry standards, and regulatory guidance.
- The NSC continues to mention the hierarchy of controls in their information articles and essential tools for members.
- OSHA mentions the hierarchy of controls in countless recommended practices, resources, and guides.
- NIOSH acknowledges the hierarchy of controls, stating that it’s an important means of ensuring worker safety and wellbeing. They also include it as a ‘National Prevention Through Design’ initiative strategy.
How to Use the Hierarchy Of Controls?
Always remember that the hierarchy of controls is linked to workplace safety. The goal is to identify and control hazards before they cause harm. To use the hierarchy of controls the right way, follow the step-by-step guide outlined below:
- Step 1 – Eliminate the Hazard: Remove it or eradicate it from the environment where it can potentially affect workers. If that’s not possible, proceed to step 2.
- Step 2 – Look for a Substitute: Replace the dangerous way or operating with something safer or worker-friendly. If that’s not possible, proceed to step 3.
- Step 3 – Engineer a Solution: This means building or constructing something that will minimize exposure to the hazard or remove the people from the hazard. If that’s not possible, proceed to step 4.
- Step 4 – Utilize Administrative Controls: This involves changing the workplace and how people work through instilling new policies, procedures, and processes. If that’s not possible, proceed to the final step.
- Step 5 – Provide Workers With Protective Equipment: This is the last line of defense against a hazard. It includes clothing, devices, and other gear that workers can use to protect themselves from exposure to hazards.
How DataMyte Can Help
As you might already know by now, the hierarchy of controls represents a flowchart or process. You start with the most effective control measure and work your way down to the least effective one.
The DataMyte Digital Clipboard can help you realize this process by providing software solutions that will automate, streamline, and improve your workflow towards dealing with hazards. In addition, our Digital Clipboard offers a variety of products that can be customized to fit your specific needs, including:
- Flow chart builder: DataMyte Digital Clipboard will help you create process flowcharts that are easy to follow and understand. It also allows you to share your flowchart with others in your organization.
- Task management: DataMyte Digital Clipboard will help you manage and track tasks more effectively. It also allows you to assign tasks to specific employees or groups.
- Workflow builder: Once you’ve created a working hierarchy of controls for your company or organization, you can then turn that process into a workflow so that your workers can follow it more easily.
DataMyte can help you with all of these steps and more. Contact us today to learn how we can help you streamline your workflow and improve your workplace safety. You can also check out our website to learn more about our Digital Clipboard and other relevant products.
The Bottom Line
The hierarchy of controls is an important part of workplace safety. It helps businesses and organizations control or eliminate occupational hazards before they cause harm. When used correctly, the hierarchy of controls can effectively ensure worker safety and wellbeing. So, make sure you incorporate this into your company standards. Get started with your company’s hierarchy of controls process through DataMyte today.