Hazard control methods at the top of the graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following this hierarchy of controls normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced.[1]

Hierarchy of hazard control is a system used in industry to prioritize possible interventions to minimize or eliminate exposure to hazards.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] It is a widely accepted system promoted by numerous safety organizations. This concept is taught to managers in industry, to be promoted as standard practice in the workplace. It has also been used to inform public policy, in fields such as road safety.[13] Various illustrations are used to depict this system, most commonly a triangle.

The hazard controls in the hierarchy are, in order of decreasing priority:

The priority should not be confused with effectiveness. The system is not based on evidence about effectiveness but based on the assumed burden on workers. If elimination of the hazard is possible, it frees workers of being aware of the hazard and protecting themselves. That is the basis for the priority. Substitution has less priority than elimination because the substitute can possibly also come with a hazard. Engineering controls depend on a well-functioning system and human behaviour. Administrative controls and personal protective equipment are always dependent on human behaviour which makes these controls less reliable.

Components of the hierarchy


Main article: Hazard elimination

Physical removal of the hazard is the most effective hazard control.[5] For example, if employees must work high above the ground, the hazard can be eliminated by moving the piece they are working on to ground level to eliminate the need to work at heights. However, often elimination of the hazard is not possible because the task explicitly involves handling a hazardous agent. For example in health care when treating patients with infectious diseases, exposure to the infectious agent is not possible to eliminate. The same holds for removing asbestos where handling the hazardous agent is the core of the task.[3]


Main article: Hazard substitution

This pesticide contains DDT; an effective substitution would be to replace it with a green pesticide.

Substitution, the second most effective hazard control, involves replacing something that produces a hazard with something that does not produce a hazard or produces a lesser hazard—for example, replacing solvent-based paint with water-based paint. To be an effective control, the new product must not produce unintended consequences. Because airborne dust can be hazardous, if a product can be purchased with a larger particle size, the smaller product may effectively be substituted with the larger product.[5]

Engineering controls

Main article: Engineering controls

The third most effective means of controlling hazards is engineered controls. These do not eliminate hazards, but rather isolate people from hazards.[3] Capital costs of engineered controls tend to be higher than less effective controls in the hierarchy, however they may reduce future costs.[6] For example, a crew might build a work platform rather than purchase, replace, and maintain fall arrest equipment. "Enclosure and isolation" creates a physical barrier between personnel and hazards, such as using remotely controlled equipment. Fume hoods can remove airborne contaminants as a means of engineered control.[5]

Administrative controls

This sign warns people that there are explosives in Walker Lake; however, it cannot prevent people from swimming in it.

Main article: Administrative controls

Administrative controls are changes to the way people work. Examples of administrative controls include procedure changes, employee training, and installation of signs and warning labels (such as those in the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System).[3] Administrative controls do not remove hazards, but limit or prevent people's exposure to the hazards, such as completing road construction at night when fewer people are driving.[5]

Personal protective equipment

Main article: Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes gloves, Nomex clothing, overalls, Tyvek suits, respirators, hard hats, safety glasses, high-visibility clothing, and safety footwear. PPE is often the most important means of controlling hazards such as in health care and asbestos removal. Even though almost always also other prevention strategies are possible these do not reduce the risks to safe levels. PPE must then be used to still further reduce risks to safe levels. However, considerable efforts are needed to use PPE effectively such as training in donning and doffing or testing the equipment.[5] Additionally, some PPE, such as respirators, increase physiological effort to complete a task and, therefore, may require medical examinations to ensure workers can use the PPE without risking their health.

Role in Prevention through Design

The hierarchy of controls is a core component of Prevention through Design, the concept of applying methods to minimize occupational hazards early in the design process. Prevention through Design emphasizes addressing hazards at the top of the hierarchy of controls (mainly through elimination and substitution) at the earliest stages of project development.[14]

Variations on the NIOSH Control Hierarchy

While the control hierarchy shown above is traditionally used in the United States and Canada, other countries or entities may use a slightly different structure. In particular, some add isolation above engineering controls instead of combining the two.[15][16][17] The variation of the hierarchy used in the ARECC decision-making framework and process for industrial hygiene (IH) includes modification of the material or procedure to reduce hazards or exposures (sometimes considered a subset of the hazard substitution option but explicitly considered there to mean that the efficacy of the modification for the situation at hand must be confirmed by the user). The ARECC version of the hierarchy also includes warnings as a distinct element to clarify the nature of the warning. In other systems, warnings are sometimes considered part of engineering controls and sometimes part of administrative controls.

See also


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

  1. ^ "Hierarchy of Controls". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  2. ^ "Hierarchy of Controls" (PDF). Health and Safety Authority (Ireland).
  3. ^ a b c d "Hierarchy of Hazard Controls". New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health. Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  4. ^ "How the hierarchy of control can help you fulfil your health and safety duties". Occupational Health & Safety Handbook. 2012-01-20. Archived from the original on 2013-01-14. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Hazard Control". Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2006-04-20. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  6. ^ a b "Engineering Controls". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  7. ^ "Tree Work – Working at height". UK Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  8. ^ "Hierarchy of control diagram". Safework SA. Archived from the original on 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  9. ^ "Hierarchy of Controls". SA Unions. Archived from the original on 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  10. ^ MANUAL HANDLING HIERARCHY OF CONTROLS Archived 2012-09-07 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Manual Handling: Hierarchy of Controls" (PDF). WorkCover New South Wales. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-12-22.
  12. ^ "Hazard identification, risk assessment & risk control in the workplace". WorkSafe Victoria. Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  13. ^ McLeod, Sam; Curtis, Carey (2020-12-21). "Integrating urban road safety and sustainable transportation policy through the hierarchy of hazard controls". International Journal of Sustainable Transportation. 16 (2): 166–180. doi:10.1080/15568318.2020.1858376. ISSN 1556-8318. S2CID 234431488.
  14. ^ "CDC - Hierarchy of Controls - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic". www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  15. ^ "Hazards and Risk". Health and Safety Authority. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  16. ^ "The hierarchy of control - WorkSafe". www.worksafe.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  17. ^ "Hierarchy of controls applied to dangerous substances: OSHwiki". oshwiki.eu. Retrieved 2021-11-10.