<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1557350231232256&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Mitigating Workplace Hazards Using the Hierarchy of Controls

Posted by Phil Coyne on Feb 17, 2023 12:06:10 PM

If you own or are planning to open a small business, safety should be at the top of your priority list. Not only is it key to the health and well-being of your employees, but it's mandated by OSHA. While some businesses may be exempt from certain OSHA guidelines, most are required to uphold health and safety precautions within the workplace or risk hefty fines if failing to do so. A perfect example is the Ohio Dollar General Store which was recently fined $395,000 for hazardous working conditions. Outside of this specific location, there were $15 million in other fines issued for Dollar General Corporation across the US. With fees this steep, one might assume the working conditions were intolerable. In reality, it came down to improper storing of supplies, blocking emergency exits, and obstructing access to safety equipment. The lesson here is what might seem like a minor detail, could be a huge threat to the safety of your workplace.

 OSHA’s recommendations for health safety practices come in many forms, with one of the most accessible being the Hierarchy of Hazard Controls. These principles represent safety considerations to be applied within your business to continuously improve your systems and business operations. To avoid fines, penalties, or claims arising from hazardous workplace conditions, use OSHA’s hierarchy of controls to identify and mitigate risk.

The Hierarchy of Hazard Control

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there are five hierarchal controls to mitigate hazards within the workplace. These controls can help small businesses determine which actions to take, and how to prioritize hazard control. NIOSH lists, in order of effectiveness, the following controls:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Administrative controls
  5. Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Incorporating this hierarchy of controls into your risk management plan can help your workplace avoid unnecessary illness or injury.


Elimination is the process of physically removing the hazard from the workplace, and is listed as the most effective hazard control. It poses the question, “Is it possible to physically remove the hazard or threat?” One common physical hazard we see in the modern workplace is musculoskeletal injury from long-term sitting and computer use. Conditions like arthritis, back pain, and carpal tunnel are common repercussions. Replacing computer chairs and monitors with ergonomic setups to ensure proper alignment for workers would be an example of elimination hazard control.

In construction, a hazard many employees face is working at heights with the risk of falling. To minimize the risk, some tasks can be done using extension tools or secure portable platforms. These controls would also be an example of the elimination of hazards. Elimination control won’t be plausible for every workplace hazard, but when possible, it's the most effective solution for risk mitigation.


The second best hazard control is substitution. Substituting is the act of replacing the hazard with a less hazardous alternative. It poses the question, “is there a safer alternative to this process or tool?”. For example, if your workplace uses harsh chemicals that pose long-term health effects to your employees, swapping these chemicals for non-toxic alternatives would be a substitution. A very common substitution in the modern workforce is swapping lead paint for water-based paint, as lead paint is a known carcinogen. Substitution, along with elimination, both involve the removal of the hazard and are not worker dependent.

Engineering Control

In some working environments, the hazard cannot be physically removed or replaced, especially when the hazard is a core aspect of a project. In these cases, engineering controls are the next best action step. Engineering controls create a barrier between the workers and the hazard to reduce the immediate risk. For example, in laboratories that test dangerous chemicals or aerosols, ventilation, and face shields can prevent immediate contact between chemicals and workers. Another example would be installing guard rails to reduce the risk of falling. Although engineering controls can cost more money upfront, they tend to lower costs long term and also lower costs associated with other areas of the facility.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls aim to change the way people work to reduce the likelihood of damage from a hazard. It can also involve reducing the number of people who interact with the hazard. According to the CDC, some aspects of administrative control include:

  • work process training
  • job rotation
  • ensuring adequate rest breaks
  • limiting access to hazardous areas or machinery
  • adjusting line speeds

For example, if your employee's job duties involve repetitive motion that could lead to injury, rotating the worker’s job duties regularly to limit the amount of repetitive motion can prevent injury. Administrative controls could also include advanced training on complex machinery for all employees, while at the same time limiting access to the machinery. Administrative controls simply reduce risk by changing how workers interact with hazards.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE is the last line of control and uses personal protective equipment to protect workers from a hazard. Examples of PPE include gloves, masks, glasses, hard hats, etc. If PPE is the appropriate hazard control for your business’s risks, a proper PPE training program should be implemented for educational purposes. In general, PPE is considered the least effective, but in some cases is the only option.

Job Hazard Analysis

To properly assign a control method to your workplace risks, your businesses should perform a thorough job hazard analysis. This analysis will look at all aspects of your business, including industry, size, job duties, location, and physical working space. Your analysis will lead to documenting all potential hazards. OSHA notes the importance of documentation to understand the “relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment." Once the hazards are identified, your business can use the hierarchy of control to determine which method will be most appropriate and effective for risk mitigation. These processes can be done internally, but can also be analyzed through a third-party professional team. Regardless of how the analysis is performed, remember to document everything, as these could be crucial to future inspections or claim processes.

Protect Your Small Business with ECBM

Risk mitigation is a key factor in protecting your business from employee injury and claims. However, injury and illness can still occur, even with proper hazard control. The best way to protect your business is with a strong business insurance program. At ECBM, our consultants can analyze your risks and build an individualized insurance program that best suits your needs. For more information on how we can serve your small business, contact one of our agents today.