What Is the Hierarchy of Controls?

Is your business doing everything it can to control risks in the workplace?

There are many different ways that businesses control hazards and risks in the workplace, but did you know that there is an established way to effectively manage risks that thousands of businesses use across New Zealand? 

The hierarchy of control is an established, effective, and proven way to manage risks in your workplace. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing the risks in your workplace while ranking controls from the best level of protection and reliability down to the least reliable and effective protection. 

In the following article, we’re going to take a closer look at the hierarchy of control and go through it step-by-step so that you can evaluate the effectiveness of hazard management in your business. 

What Is the Hierarchy of Control and How Does It Work? 

The hierarchy of control is an upside-down triangle, so the biggest part of the triangle is at the top, with the smallest part at the bottom. The hierarchy of control works like this: 
1. Elimination – Eliminate the hazards and risks 
2. Substitution – Replace the hazard. 
3. Engineering Controls – Isolate employees and people from the risk. 
4. Administrative Controls – Educate employees about ways to avoid risks. 
5. PPE – Protect employees with personal protective equipment. 

Below we will break down each of the five steps of the hierarchy of control in further detail. For this example, we’ll look at a potentially dangerous piece of machinery used in the business. This machinery poses several significant risks to employees, but what this machine produces is essential to the company. 

1. Elimination of Hazards and Risks – The best and most effective way to reduce the risk of harm from hazards in any workplace is to eliminate the risks altogether. When you identify any risks, you should start by trying to eliminate them. In this case, the machine could be removed, but there is no other way to replace the role that this machine performs. If you can’t eliminate the risk, then it’s time to move to the next step in the hierarchy of control. 

2. Substitute the Risk – If you can’t eliminate the risk, it’s time to start looking at alternatives. Unfortunately, not all risks can be 100% eliminated, so you need to look at alternatives such as reducing the risk by substitution. Unfortunately, there is no other machine available that can perform the same role as this machine. Substituting the risk with something that has fewer risks won’t work, so it’s time to move to the next step. 

3. Engineering Controls – If you can’t eliminate or substitute the risk, then you need to look at practical ways to reduce the risk, such as engineering controls. In the case of this piece of machinery, safety barriers and cages were suggested. However, to operate the machine, you need to be able to turn it on and off. Moving or relocating the on and off switch can be done and will eliminate some risks to workers, but there are still risks associated with operating the machine, so let's move on to the next step. 

4. Administrative Controls – Education is a great administrative control. Administrative controls could be educating people that use the machine, safety signage, or training courses. This step reduces the risks, but there is still some risk involved. 

5. Personal Protective Equipment – The final step in the hierarchy of control is PPE. If workers must be around the hazard, then reducing the risk by wearing appropriate PPE can reduce the risk again. It’s important to note that PPE should only be used when all other steps in the hierarchy of control have been tried. 

Hierarchy of Control – Conclusion 

The hierarchy of control works best when you start at the top and work your way down to the bottom. PPE should be the last thing that you use to try to reduce the risks of hazards in your workplace. Have a look around your workplace. Is there something you have identified as a hazard, and could you use the hierarchy of control to remove or reduce the risk effectively? Give it a shot.

If you have any questions about the hierarchy of control, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us directly. 


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