Protecting Against Hazardous Chemicals and the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls
Being able to control exposure to hazardous chemicals and ensure workplace safety is a critically important responsibility for businesses. To manage this effectively, a hierarchy of controls is often applied. In this blog post, we discuss the hierarchy of hazard controls and look at its use in protecting workers.
Hierarchy of Hazard Controls
A hierarchy of controls is a system used to determine how to apply successful control measures. It is often referred to as a hierarchy of hazard controls, particularly in the context of controlling exposure to hazards (including hazardous chemicals) in the workplace.
As defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), five key levels are included within the hierarchy of controls:
- Engineering controls
- Administrative controls
- Personal protective equipment
These levels are hierarchically ordered, with the most effective control measures at the top of the hierarchy and those measures considered to be less effective at the bottom.
|Elimination||Eliminating the hazard through its physical removal|
|Substitution||Substituting a hazard with another substance|
|Engineering controls||Physically isolating a hazard away from individuals|
|Administrative controls||Altering the manner in which work is conducted|
|Personal protective equipment||Implementing the use of PPE to protect against the hazard|
Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Levels of Control
- By far, the most effective means of protecting against a chemical hazard is by eliminating it altogether. While this may be achievable in many instances, in others it may not be possible or feasible (for operational, economic, or other reasons). In such cases, substitution may be a more practical option.
- Substitution involves replacing hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. Several key steps are common to most substitution efforts:
- Understanding Currently Used Chemical Substances: Among other things, this should incorporate an understanding of their intended uses, properties, and effects.
- Researching Potential Alternate Chemicals: This should include an evaluation of factors related to the chemicals’ use and the potential risks involved.
- Testing: Evaluation of the effects the new chemicals will have on the environment and on human health is essential.
- In instances where removal or replacement of hazardous chemicals is not possible, the use of engineering controls can be effective. Engineering controls work by controlling exposure to a hazard at its source. They typically involve separating workers from a chemical hazard, often by means of a barrier or similar containment apparatus.
- Administrative controls function by modifying the way work is conducted. These controls may include such things as procedural changes that favorably affect the way workers interact with hazardous chemicals, proper chemical labeling, establishment and use of a workplace safety training program, and more.
Personal Protective Equipment
- While not as effective a measure as total hazard elimination, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is still an indispensable tool in helping protect workers from hazardous chemicals. Its common purpose is to prevent chemical contact with an individual’s skin, eyes, or other vulnerable areas. Types of PPE used can vary based on several factors, including the nature of the protection offered. Examples include:
- skin protection (e.g., chemical protective suits, chemical-resistant gloves and boots)
- eye protection (e.g., goggles)
- respiratory protection (e.g., air respirators)
Thorough Understanding of Chemicals
A fundamental aspect of workplace chemical safety is being aware of chemicals used and understanding the properties and risks associated with them. To achieve a thorough understanding of workplace chemicals and the risks that they pose, having access to detailed information resources is essential.
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