The hierarchy of risk control is a method to help industries to maintain high safety standards for their employees. This standard set forth by OSHA has several steps to help prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace.

What is the Hierarchy of Risk Control?

The risk hierarchy is an industry system used to minimize or eliminate workplace hazards.

Here is the hierarchy of controls, with each control listed in order of importance.

  • Elimination
  • Substitution
  • Engineering Controls
  • Administrative Controls
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)


Here are some hierarchy of risk control examples.


Elimination is the highest form of hazard control. By removing all hazards from a work area, employees can safely perform their work. An example includes workers performing maintenance on an overhead light run the risk of a fall hazard. To eliminate this hazard, the light must be lowered to the ground for maintenance.


Substitution is the next most effective version of hazard control. By substituting something hazardous with a non-hazardous product, workers can safely complete their tasks. However, the substitution itself should not contain hazardous materials. An example of this may include the use of harsh chemicals in the workplace. An adequate substitution is to replace toxic chemicals with safe ones that pose little to no health risks. Or, in the case of lacerations, replacing dangerous traditional utility knives with finger-friendly® utility knives.

-Engineering Controls

Engineering controls isolate individuals from threats. These controls are less effective than elimination or substitution. For example, working on tall equipment would be safer if the item was placed on the ground level. As that is not always a viable solution, platforms and fall arrest equipment would be a possible engineering control solution.

-Administrative Controls

Administrative control focuses on changing work habits. Examples of this include safer procedures, warning labels, sign installation, and employee training are all examples of administrative controls.

-Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes respirators, gloves, uniforms, safety glasses, and safety footwear. While these do help lower the hazard risks, they are the least effective means of control as there is always the potential for the items to become damaged and ineffective. Proper maintenance and replacement of old PPE are necessary.

How to Identify Risk Control Options

Before a plan to control hazards can be enacted, dangers within the workplace must first be identified. It is essential for management to poll workers to gain insight into issues they may have with their work area.

To help identify specific hazards workers are exposed to, review industry safety standards set forth by OSHA or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and tool manufacturer literature. Administrators should be current on relevant safety information for their industry.

Managers should take the time to investigate potential hazards reported by workers. Surveying the work area and equipment allows supervisors to determine which control methods would work best.

Developing Hierarchy of Risk Control Methods

Once all hazards are identified, it is time to develop a risk control plan to put into action. A fully developed hazard plan will address all concerns in the order of priority. In some cases, interim controls may be necessary until the project can be put into full force.

To adequately develop an action plan, managers must first identify the most severe hazards. By prioritizing risks, it is easier to create adequate controls. It is also necessary to have a person, or persons, responsible for installing or implementing the rules.

An effective control method should be long-term and include a way to track the progress towards completing the plan steps. There should be an end date contained in the report and a method to determine the effectiveness of the plan.

Implementing Hierarchy of Risk Control Measures

Implementation of the risk control measures occurs according to the predetermined hazard priorities, tackling the worst offenses first. Actions that are merely general housekeeping tasks should be done immediately despite their location on the risk level of established priorities.

Managers should hang warning signage or implement employee training as soon as time allows. Additionally, PPE should be made readily available and checked at regular intervals. All PPE that is damaged or worn past effectiveness must be replaced.

Knowing how to prevent workplace accidents is the responsibility of both the administration and the employees. It is essential to understand the different levels in the hierarchy of risk control and how to develop a plan and implement those steps.