When it comes to supply chain management, every partner wants to be known as a safe company to work with – not just in terms of how they might affect the risk profile, but also in terms of how they protect their workforce. After all, when the workers are disrupted due to injury or a fatality, then the supply chain is disrupted. Regrettably, not every company has adequate safety processes in place. Fortunately, the Hierarchy of Control can help any organization create standards that make sense for their business.
What is the Hierarchy of Control and How Does It Help?
The Hierarchy of Control is a system that is designed to control hazards in order to protect workers on job sites. This system has been adopted by several industries and is typically taught to managers in charge of health and safety. While different graphics that represent this system exist, the most common graphic is an upside-down triangle that has been segmented into different hierarchies. Those segments are as follows in this order top to bottom: Elimination, Substitution, Engineering, Administration, and Personal Protective Equipment. The top of the upside-down triangle represents the most effective hazard controls while the bottom represents the least effective.
Hazard controls that fall under the Elimination category are methods that completely remove the identified hazard. For example, a company that works with a toxic chemical may realize that the chemical is not necessary for normal business operation. As such, the company can decide to eliminate that chemical entirely from its operations. Elimination hazard controls are the most effective because it removes all chances of a worker being affected by the hazard.
Substitution hazard controls are very similar to Elimination controls in that they remove the hazard. The difference is that the hazard is replaced by a non-hazard. For example, the company using a toxic chemical may replace the chemical with something non-toxic. As a result, the hazard is essentially eliminated.
Engineering hazard controls fall in the middle of the hierarchy. These controls do not remove or replace the hazard. Instead, the worker is protected from the hazard by some of kind equipment or shielding. For example, the company with the toxic chemical may decide that the substance is necessary and must be interacted with by employees. To control the hazard, the company may decide to separate the worker from the chemical by building a safety shed for the worker who can then pilot a crane or drone or some other equipment remotely to minimize contact with the chemical. These controls are effective insofar as the engineering is effective.
Administration controls fall on the less effective side of the hierarchy. These controls rely on safety protocols and practices to control hazards. For example, the company with the toxic chemical may realize that the chemical is only a hazard when its containers are handled incorrectly. The company may decide to create chemical handling processes to protect workers. These types of controls are only effective insofar as the workers adhere to the processes. Unfortunately, if workers mishandle the hazard due to forgetfulness, disobedience, or an honest mistake, then the control is useless.
Similarly, Personal Protective Equipment is also a poor hazard control in that the hazard still exists, and the worker still has to interact with it. The company with the toxic chemical is only protecting the worker by requiring protective clothing and gear, like gloves, masks, and glasses. If any of those fail, then the worker will be exposed to injury or a fatality.
Designing Hazard Controls for Your Business
While every organization would like to eliminate all hazards from every job site, in most cases that reality is not likely. Builders cannot eliminate high elevations, for example. However, the goal is to always aim for elimination. So, builders may try constructing new levels at ground level and then lifting the addition to the required elevation using piloted equipment instead of having workers put themselves at risk of a fall. Organizations looking to build out their own safety standards would do well to keep the Hierarchy of Control in mind as they do so.
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