Managing workplace risk and the Hierarchy of Control

Managing Workplace Risk Heirarchy of ControlThere are four steps involved in managing workplace health and safety risks according to a Safe Work Australia fact sheet, beginning with hazard and risk assessments followed by implementing and reviewing control measures.

While the best way to control a risk is to eliminate the hazard altogether this may not always be ‘reasonably practicable’, in which case risks should be minimised as much as possible using the following steps.

Step 1) Identify Hazards:  identify what could cause harm.

Step 2) Assess Risks: Understand what harm could be caused, the likelihood and how serious it could be and whether any existing control measures are effective.

Step 3) Control Risks: Implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances using the Hierarchy of Control.

Step 4) Review Control Measures: To ensure they are working effectively.


The Hierarchy of Control

The Safe Work Australia How to manage work health and safety risks Model Code of Practice states that Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations require duty holders to work through the Hierarchy of Control when managing risks.

The Hierarchy of Control ranks risk control measures from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest level of protection and reliability.

Eliminating the hazard creating the risk is the most effective, followed by substituting the hazard with something safer, isolating the hazard from people or reducing risk using engineering controls.  

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and administrative actions sit as the last line of defense and should only be used after all other control measures have been assessed or a supplementary control measure.

A combination of controls should be used whenever a single control measure is not sufficient.

Level 1)

  • Eliminate the Hazard altogether eg Get rid of the dangerous machine.

Level 2)

  • Substitute the Hazard with a safer alternative eg replace the machine with a safer version.
  • Isolate the Hazard eg Keep the machine in a closed room and operate it remotely.
  • Use Engineering Controls to reduce the risk eg attach guard to the machine to protect users.

Level 3)

  • Use administratie controls eg train workers how to use the machine safely.
  • Use PPE eg wear gloves and safety eyewear when using the machine.

Safe Work Australia states that the controls in Level 3 should only be used as a last resort, as an interim measure and as a backup for higher control measures.

WHS regulations require that PPE must be a suitable size and fit and cater for the nature of work and associated hazards.

Once appropriate controls have been identified, senior management and any workers who will be affected by the changes should be consulted and their input sought.

This will minimise oversight and increase support and adoption of the changes and may also lead to increased staff satisfaction.

For more information on the Hierarchy of Control and managing workplace health and safety risks read the Safe Work Australia Code of Practice and Safety at the Workplace Fact Sheet.