Safety professionals have relied on the The Hierarchy of Controls for many years. It is a proven methodology for eliminating, reducing, and controlling exposure in the workplace. Less exposure equals less harm to employees.

The Hierarchy of Controls consists of five control methods:

  • Elimination
  • Substitution
  • Engineering Controls
  • Administrative Controls
  • Personal Protective Equipment

The idea behind the hierarchy is that the controls at the top are more effective than those at the bottom. Let’s look at each control method in more detail starting at the top of the hierarchy.


Elimination is the preferred method to address workplace hazards. For example, installing a power drop above a piece of equipment can eliminate an electrical cord on the walking surface that poses a trip hazard. Elimination may not be feasible for all types of hazards but should always be evaluated regardless.


Substitution is a control measure that utilizes less hazardous materials, processes, or equipment to accomplish a task. For example, substituting a hazardous chemical used in a process with one that is less or non-hazardous.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls are used to remove a hazard or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Examples of engineering controls include machine guards, safety interlocks, and ventilation.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are procedures or policies used to manage exposure to hazards or change the way people work.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last resort when addressing exposure to hazards. PPE has limitations, but if used appropriately and in conjunction with the other elements of the hierarchy it can reduce exposure.


The hierarchy of controls methodology has stood the test of time. The more it is used to eliminate, reduce, or control exposure, the more it becomes intuitive. It is straight forward. Just start at the top and identify the most effective ways to address hazards.

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Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at [email protected]