2 min read

How the hierarchy of control can help you fulfil your health and safety duties

By Joanna Weekes

What is the hierarchy of control, and how can it be used to create safe work systems in your workplace?

If you are an officer or director of a company, you have specific duties in the area of health and safety, such as carrying out due diligence. This means taking reasonable steps to ensure your business is complying with its obligations under health and safety legislation.

Where does the hierarchy of control fit in all this?

One of an officer’s or director’s health and safety duties is to understand the varying levels of controls that prevent any identified hazards from posing a risk to the health and safety of persons in and associated with the workplace.

This duty involves the use of the hierarchy of control.

How to use the hierarchy of control

The hierarchy of control creates a systematic approach to managing safety in your workplace by providing a structure to select the most effective control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk of specific hazards identified as being caused by the operations of the business.

The hierarchy of control has six levels of control measures, the most effective measure is at the top of the hierarchy and the least effective is at the bottom. So the idea is that you start from the top of the hierarchy in choosing your control measure, and work your way down.

The hierarchy of control involves the following steps:

  1. Elimination – eradicates the cause of danger.
  2. Substitution – controls the hazard by replacing it with a less risky way to achieve the same outcome.
  3. Isolation – separates the hazard from the people at risk by isolating it.
  4. Engineering – using engineering controls, i.e. making physical changes, to lessen any remaining risk, e.g. redesign a machine by adding safeguards.
  5. Administration – use administrative controls to lessen the risk, e.g. install signs and rotate jobs.
  6. Personal protective equipment (PPE) – require your employees to wear PPE, e.g. provide gloves, earplugs, goggles, and iridescent vests.

Note: Using PPE to control hazards should always be the last resort.

The control hierarchy is, of course, not only used by officers and directors. The hierarchy of control is a method for choosing risk control measures that can be used by employees at every level of a company.

For example, directors ad officers can use the hierarchy to create safety strategies to be carried down through the company; senior management can use the hierarchy to train workers in the safety strategies and be assured that workers are competent and capable in those control measures, and workers use the control measures on a day-to-day basis in their workplace.

This is only an introduction to the hierarchy of control. Please refer to comprehensive chapter H6 Hierarchy of Control in your Health & Safety Handbook for more information about this approach to risk control and how you can develop safety strategies to ensure your workers are safe from harm whilst at work.

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