In recent years, many advances have been made to ergonomic solutions in manufacturing facilities around the world. Oftentimes, companies will introduce ergonomic solutions to improve efficiency and productivity. But, many companies are also introducing ergonomic hazard control solutions to reduce worker’s injury risks. One important tool safety engineers and production managers use to minimize or eliminate worker exposure is the hierarchy of hazard control. This simple hierarchy allows facilities to select the most appropriate control to reduce hazards identified in the workplace.
Many of these hazard control solutions include simple interventions, like elimination or substitution, modifying existing equipment, purchasing new tools or lifting devices to assist in production, and changing daily work practices. These kind of changes help to eliminate unnecessary (manual) lifting, reduce worker’s physical demands, lower injury rates, and reduce compensation costs and employee turn. Ergonomic hazard control solutions like these have become an innovative and effective way to improve safety across the board, but they also consistently improve productivity in most cases. Many facility managers don’t realize how many simple, low-cost solutions are available to solve their factory problems. But, it’s also important to note that—like most systems and solutions—the hierarchy of hazard control works best when used correctly.
PROACTIVE IS BETTER THAN REACTIVE
Many organizations look to the hierarchy of hazard control after an accident or fatality occurs. But, the proper use of this tool will reduce the likelihood of these incidents. According to an article published by EMC Insurance titled Loss Control Insights, "Checklists and proactive audits of a worksite can identify potential hazards, which are best controlled by the appropriate action identified in the hierarchy before an accident occurs.”
HAZARD CONTROL OVERVIEW
What is a hazard control program? According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “Hazard control programs consists of all steps necessary to protect workers from exposure to a substance or system, the training and the procedures required to monitor worker exposure and their health to hazards such as chemicals, materials or substance, or other types of hazards such as noise and vibration.”
The first step to hazard control in the workplace is to provide a written workplace hazard program, which determines the methods that are already being used to control the hazard and how these control can be monitored for ongoing effectiveness.
According to OSHA’s “Solutions to Control Hazards”, the best way to reduce the chance of workplace injury is to design work tasks that limit exposure to ergonomic risk factors. This includes engineering controls, administrative or work practice controls, and personal protection solutions. But, to take it a step further, we’ve also outline two additional hazard controls: elimination and substitution.
ELIMINATION & SUBSTITUTION
Elimination and substitution are perhaps the most effective and easiest methods to reduce workplace hazards. This requires safety engineers to remove the hazard from the workplace, or substitute hazardous practices, materials, and machines with less hazardous ones. Eliminating the hazard from the workplace is a highly effective means to control risk because the hazard itself is not longer present. It is the most preferred method of controlling ergonomic—along with other types of—hazards. Substitution, on the other hand, is used to introduce a new chemical, substance, or practice that is less hazardous than the previous ones. Substitution is often grouped with elimination because substitution also involves removing the original hazard from the workplace. The goal is to choose a new chemical, practice, or substance that is less hazardous than the original.
Engineering controls are a highly effective method to control hazards in the workplace. These methods are built into the design of the factory, equipment, or processes and procedures. Engineering controls are a reliable way to minimize worker exposure to potential hazards and risks. As long as the controls are designed, maintained, and used properly, they are extremely effective. The basic types of engineering controls are: process controls, enclosure or isolation of emission sources, proper ventilation, and limiting the force of exertion on workers. Specific examples of engineering controls include:
- Using a lift device/ material handling system to lift and reposition heavy objects and limit force exertion
- Reducing the weight of a load to limit force exertion
- Repositioning work tables to eliminate long reach and enable working in safe, neutral positions
- Using diverging conveyors off your main line to eliminate long, repetitive tasks
- Installing diverters on conveyors to direct materials toward the worker, successfully eliminating excessive reaching or leaning
- Redesigning tools to enable safe, neutral postures
- Fall protection systems for workers at height
- Enclosing or isolating emission sources, and providing proper ventilation
ADMINISTRATIVE/WORK PRACTICE CONTROLS
Administrative controls are effective in facilities and applications where engineering controls cannot be introduced or when additional procedures are needed after implementing engineering controls. Administrative controls help establish efficient processes and procedures in the workplace, thereby reducing risk of injury and establishing consistent, ergonomic practices that improve productivity. Examples of administrative controls include:
- Requiring two or more workers to lift heavy loads to limit force exertion
- Establishing systems that ensure workers are rotated away from tasks to minimize the duration of ongoing exertion, repetitive motions, and awkward/uncomfortable positions.
- Designing a job rotation system that allows employees to rotate between different jobs to use alternate muscle groups. Workers are rotated away from tasks to minimize the duration of continual exertion, repetitive motions, and awkward postures
- Designing a job rotation system in which employees rotate between jobs that use different muscle groups
- Hiring staff floaters to provide workers with periodic breaks between normal, scheduled breaks
- Ensuring workers are using and maintaining pneumatic and power tools properly
PERSONAL PROTECTION SOLUTIONS
According to OSHA, personal protection solutions only provide limited effectiveness when dealing with ergonomic work hazards. Even so, these are often cheap and easy ways to control hazards and are absolutely worth implementing. Personal protection equipment is a form of physical protection to reduce exposure to ergonomic-related risk factors. Examples of personal protection solutions include:
- Using padding to reduce direct contact with sharp, hard, hot, or vibrating surfaces
- Wearing fitted thermal gloves to help with cold / hazardous conditions
- Using protective eye and shoe wear to prevent damage to face and feet
- Providing respirators to ensure workers are able to control their breathing in hazardous settings
Proper Use of the Hierarchy of Control
- Starting at the top of the hierarchy: faced with workplace hazards, companies often look for the easiest, least expensive solution, such as (PPE) personal protective equipment—see below for more information about PPE. PPE is appropriate for some hazards, but it is the least effective control in the hierarchy, which is why it’s at the bottom.
- The hierarchy outlines its control methods in order of importance. That means, the control methods at the top are typically more effective than those at the bottom. PPE and some administrative controls may be less expensive solutions, but elimination, substitution and engineering controls can have a long-term impact on preventing injuries and accidents.
- Applying a control and never using it: It’s important to complete a risk management process by monitoring the control and revising if needed. Never assume the control you’ve selected was the correct control for your specific hazard(s). If the hazard still exists after implementing one control, consult the hierarchy of hazard control for other solutions.
- Administrative controls, including safety training, are essential to workplace safety. But they cannot replace all other controls, which are oftentimes arguably more effective at reducing workplace hazards. Training doesn’t eliminate hazards or reduce worker’s exposure to them. Consider the control at the top of the hierarchy first—or in addition to—administrative controls.
Although lean manufacturing and ergonomic settings are often the most effective means of manufacturing, there are many control hazards that need to be addressed in an ergonomic setting. Ergonomic solutions to control hazards are not only easy to implement, but they also protect workers from injury, reduce workplace hazards, decrease worker’s compensation, and improve worker responsiveness and productivity. If you consistently and correctly use the hierarchy of hazard control tool correctly, you are bound to create a safe, healthy, and happier workplace for all your employees.