The hierarchy of controls is an essential tool in the OH&S education and the everyday practice of keeping safe while at work. As you can see from the picture below it breaks down the ways you should approach a hazard. It breaks it into 5 different categories ranging from most effective to least effective. Every category on the triangle is an effective method for handling a hazard and can be combined at times as well.
This is the best result for any hazard, to completely eliminate any risk from the task or to remove that particular task all together. This is obviously a great line to take if it is practical. Unfortunately there is very few scenarios where removing the task is viable. When there is a task that needs to be done, not doing that task is not a very effective way of well… doing the task. While it may be the most effective way to reduce risk it has always seemed to me to be a bit redundant.
Altering the tasks steps or altering the way the task is done to replace the hazard with a different thing is another way you can improve a hazardous situation. This step can also be a bit of a trap because sometimes there is a bit of a culture to just change something for the sake of change. When altering a task to try and replace the hazard the obvious thing needs to be said, make sure that the change you are doing is improving the task at hand while also making it safer. There is little point in improving the task if it makes the task itself less safe.
Engineering controls involve isolating people from the hazards present in a task, for instance, if there is a task that is usually completed at height if there is a way that the task can be done on the ground that would isolate the person from the hazard. Engineering controls also refer to things such as fitting guards over dangerous machinery that is used in a task that will stop the person from being able to get hurt by the dangerous aspect of the machine.
This involves education to the people who will be carrying out the task, this can include various safety meetings where information is passed both ways from management to staff and vice versa. Once the task is fully understood you can figure out a method of changing the way the task is carried out so it is safer. This is a viable method because education is always important and the more you understand something the better you will be at it.
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is the last thing you should do to protect yourself from a hazard (sort of). The reason I say sort of is because PPE will likely be used in almost all work environments, regardless of which other hierarchy control is used. You will use PPE regardless, the idea is that you wouldn’t need to use PPE if the hazard was removed but generally if you are doing a job some part of it will require safety glasses, hearing protection or closed toe steel cap boots.
This has been a short breakdown of the hierarchy of controls and I hope it was informative.