How the Hierarchy of Controls Effectively Reduces Workplace Hazards

Reducing or eliminating employee exposure to hazards is essential to ensure workplace health and safety, and the Hierarchy of Controls is one of the best ways to do that. However, while the Hierarchy of Controls is all around us, most would probably struggle to identify the hundreds of control measures currently keeping them safe.

The Hierarchy of Controls is a method of determining which actions will best control exposures and consists of the following five controls:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Administrative controls
  5. PPE

Always apply the most effective controls first and then move down the list. Remember, most hazards require multiple control measures before they are reduced to a reasonable level.

Elimination: Removing the hazard

Elimination is the preferred control because if you can effectively remove the hazard at the source, you have also eliminated the risk of employee exposure. For example, suppose you have the ability in your work process to eliminate the need for employees to handle sharp objects. In that case, that is an effective way to eliminate the risk of lacerations.

Substitution: Replace the hazard with a less dangerous option

Substituting a current tool or process for a less hazardous one is an excellent way to eliminate or reduce risk. For example, let’s say your facility has a shop where they perform maintenance on fleet vehicles. Currently, the mechanics are cleaning mechanical parts with harsh chemicals that require them to wear a respirator.

If your organization can substitute those chemicals for less hazardous ones, you are reducing employee exposure to the toxic fumes associated with the process. While the new chemical may have risks of its own, if they are less than the previous chemical, you are moving in the right direction.

Something to keep in mind is that while elimination and substitution are effective methods to eliminate or reduce hazards, they can also be challenging to apply to existing, established operations. Therefore, using these methods during the planning and development stages of new processes and facilities or when purchasing new tools and equipment is best.

Engineering controls: Isolate people from the hazard

Engineering controls reduce or prevent hazards from contacting workers by creating barriers, modifying equipment, or changing the workspace. For example, a guardrail that protects workers from a fall or air conditioning that protects from excessive heat are both examples of engineering control.

Administrative controls: Create rules for how people interact with the hazard

Administrative controls are policies and procedures created by management intended to change worker behavior. Common examples include reducing hazards’ duration, frequency, or intensity through job rotation, mandatory rest periods, and adjusting process speeds.

Unfortunately, many administrative controls are ineffective because they require worker compliance. For example, a company could create a policy and post a sign designating a mechanical room in their facility as an authorized personnel-only zone. However, if unauthorized employees knowingly disregard that rule, or perhaps don’t see the sign or forget the rule change, that rule has not done much.

PPE: Protective equipment like safety glasses or hard hats

Personal Protective Equipment is one of the first control measures that most people think of when it comes to making a workplace safer, and for a good reason. PPE safeguards wearers from the hazards they may encounter at the workplace that other control measures can’t eliminate.

The most common types of PPE you’re likely to encounter on a job site are hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, boots, and respirators. However, with recent technological advancements, products like exoskeletons are evolving the category to include more than just risk protection.

Taking a modern approach to the Hierarchy of Controls

By following the Hierarchy of Controls, you can effectively eliminate hazards and reduce risk. When deciding which control measures to implement, it’s essential to look at classic and modern solutions. That’s because as technology advances, so have the control measures available to companies.

Exoskeletons are a modern engineering control that addresses the risk of soft tissue injury and has been gaining popularity for the past several years. Exoskeletons are wearable machines that go around parts of a user’s body and provide additional strength and support. By isolating the wearer’s body from extra strain, they can reduce fatigue, injuries, and musculoskeletal disorders common in labor-intensive roles.

Exoskeletons from German Bionic are the first connected, active exoskeletons that support the lower back to provide 30kg (66 pounds) of lifting support plus walking assistance. In addition, they also included an integrated early warning system to prevent injuries and comprehensive reporting that gives leaders the information they need to make well-informed strategic choices about their workforce and operations.

Control measures are about eliminating hazards and reducing risk, and that’s precisely what the wearable tools from German Bionic do. Schedule a demo today to learn more about how German Bionic can help you create a safer and healthier workplace.

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