Workplace safety is critical to the health and well-being of employees, as well as the success of businesses. One important tool for managing workplace hazards is the hierarchy of hazard controls.
The hierarchy of hazard controls is a framework that allows employers and safety professionals to prioritize the most effective control measures for managing occupational hazards in the workplace. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the hierarchy has five levels, starting with the most effective measures and progressing down to the least effective.
In addition, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a U.S. federal agency that regulates and sets standards for workplace safety, recognizes the hierarchy of hazard controls as a useful tool for managing workplace hazards and recommends its use in the workplace.
The hierarchy of hazard controls is a systematic approach to identifying and controlling hazards in the workplace when employees or field staff have exposure to hazards. It is based on the principle that the most effective way to control a hazard is to eliminate it. If that is not possible, the next best option is to substitute the hazard with a less hazardous alternative. If that is also not possible, the next step is to implement engineering controls, which involve changes to the design or process (the way people work) to reduce the risk. If engineering controls are insufficient or not possible, administrative controls such as safe work practices and training can be implemented. As a last resort, personal protective equipment (PPE) can be used to protect workers from hazards. It is important to follow the hierarchy of hazard controls in order to prioritize the most effective control measures and ensure the safety of workers in the workplace.
At the top of the hierarchy, the best and most effective way to control a hazard is to eliminate the hazard at the source. This can be achieved by changing the work process so the hazardous task, material, or equipment is no longer required or by physically removing the hazard.
While this is the most effective control method, it is also the most difficult one to implement. It is, moreover, impossible for hazards that are inherent to the job itself. No matter how much safer it would be, a carpenter can't avoid using a circular saw, a large warehouse operation can't get rid of its forklifts, and a metal smelting plant can't keep the equipment at a cool temperature.
Hazard elimination is best carried out during the planning a development stage. This requires collaborative thinking. Ideally, this would involve bringing together all the people involved in the job process - from engineers and supervisors to the workers and operators - and discussing the possibility of eliminating hazards with them.
Substitution is the second-most-effective method for controlling hazards. Like the name implies, it involves replacing a risky process or piece of equipment with one that poses a lower risk. (Essentially trading off one hazard for a new hazard that poses a lower risk). This is most often a scenario where exposure to the hazard is going to happen, but there is some control of how the hazard is approach and introduces the idea of effective hazard control.
In most cases, substitution is more feasible than elimination. It does, however, often involve an additional expense since the safer equipment or materials can be more expensive than their higher-hazard counterparts.
One example of substitution is purchasing chemicals in pellet or crystal form rather than using the same chemical in powder form. While not eliminated entirely, this substitution significantly reduces the risk of exposure through inhalation.
If a hazard cannot be eliminated or substituted, the next step is to implement engineering controls. Engineering controls are those that involve changes to the design of an equipment or process.Engineering controls can be further broken down into three basic types:
Process controls: Changing the way a job or process is performed, such as using electric motors rather than diesel engines or using vacuum systems instead of brooms.
Isolation: Placing a barrier between the employee and the risk, whether it's an enclosure, a machine guard, or a sound-reducing enclosure around noisy machinery
Ventilation: Strategically adding and removing air in the work environment to improve air quality and reduce airborne hazards
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