Controlling the risk of exposure to occupational hazards is the fundamental way of preventing accidents, injuries and illnesses at your worksite.
Hierarchy of Controls suggests that there are mainly five ways to control the risks at workplaces, namely (i) Elimination, (ii) Substitution, (iii) Engineering Controls, (iv) Administrative Controls and (v) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The Hierarchy of Controls ranks those five control options from highest level of protection and reliability to lowest. The idea is to help us determine economically feasible and effective risk control solutions suitable for our worksites.
Elimination and Substitution controls can be achieved through removing the hazards or selecting alternate products or equipment. Sometimes doing the same work in a less hazardous way is possible. For example, a hazardous chemical can be replaced by a less hazardous one. Despite being the most effective control measures, Elimination and Substitution often tend to be difficult to implement in an existing process; major changes in equipment and procedures may be required to eliminate or substitute for an existing hazard.
If a hazard cannot be eliminated or replaced, it can sometimes be isolated, contained or kept away from workers. Thus Engineering Controls help modify existing machinery or suggest purchasing new machinery to provide applicable solution. The idea is to remove the hazard at the source, before it even comes in contact with the workers. Guarding moving parts of a machine or equipment and providing good ventilation system at worksite are some of the examples of Engineering Controls. The initial cost of implementation can be higher but over the time operating costs are frequently lower, and often can provide cost savings in other areas of the process, such as productivity and quality.
Administrative Controls develop new work rules or procedures to reduce the risk of hazard exposure. Both Administrative and PPE Controls are frequently used with existing processes where hazards have not yet been controlled completely by other means. They may be relatively inexpensive to establish but, over the long run, can be very costly to sustain.
Hazard Elimination and Substitution, of all, are the most effective way of controlling workplace hazards. For instance, getting rid of a hazardous job, tool, process, machine or substance is perhaps the best way of protecting workers. However, Elimination and Substitution controls fail to provide practical and economical solutions most of the times. Therefore, we need to look for other options in Engineering, Administrative and PPE Control measures.
Let us consider an example of welding & fire safety at a construction site. Completely eliminating the possibility of welding, cutting or grinding to mitigate the risk of catching fire and exposure to welding fume does not sound practical at all. But we can apply Engineering Controls (such as barricading such hazardous working area, utilizing welding fume extractor, installing proper ventilation system, etc.) and Administrative Controls (such as removing flammable substances from the area, keeping applicable fire extinguishers nearby, etc.) to mitigate the risk. Besides, training your workers on the use of fire extinguisher, enforcing standard welding procedure, organizing job rotation, and assigning fire watch personnel are also some of the effective Administrative Controls to mitigate the risk of fire and exposure to toxic welding fumes.
PPE should be considered the last resort and the least effective way of mitigating the risk of accident, illness and injury at worksites.
It offers the lowest level of protection and should only be used when the hazard exposure cannot be removed or reduced by any other means. PPE Controls (such as steel toe boots, welding apron, leather gloves, safety goggles, respiratory masks, etc.) do not directly control the exposure of the welding, cutting or grinding hazards, however, can protect workers from their negative impact and consequences to certain extent.
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