Hazardous substances can be used safely in workplaces if adequate control strategies are used to prevent exposure to those chemicals. To eliminate or reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals, the use of an effective “Hierarchy of Controls” (HOC) is encouraged by ANSI/ASSP Z10-2012, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.. When you determine during a workplace assessment that exposure to harmful levels of hazardous chemicals is present, try to eliminate or reduce hazard and/or exposure using the following HOC strategies in the following order:
The first three strategies focus on doing something with the hazard.
- Elimination: The best solution is to totally eliminate hazardous substances in the workplace.
- Substitution: Substitution is the next-best solution. Replace a toxic substance with a less-toxic substance. If you can’t get rid of the toxic substances, you may be able to replace them with substances that are at least less toxic.
- Engineering Controls: Redesign or modify processes that use toxic chemicals to eliminate or reduce exposure to the chemical hazard itself.
The last three strategies focus on doing something with behaviors to reduce exposure to the hazard.
- Warnings: Use container labels and signs to warn employees about the dangers of the chemicals they are using.
- Administrative Controls: The primary focus is to develop and incorporate safer behaviors and work practices through written safety policies and rules, supervision, and training. This strategy is a challenge because supervisors must regularly monitor their employees as they perform tasks. Bottom line, these controls work only so long as employees “behave” properly.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The use of PPE is probably the most common strategy, and mandatory when working with hazardous chemicals. PPE forms a barrier between workers and hazards. Once again, the chemical hazard is neither eliminated nor reduced, and a high reliance is placed on appropriate use of PPE for this strategy to be successful.
Remember, the first question you want to ask is, “How can I eliminate, reduce, or engineer out the hazard?” Hopefully you’ll be able to eliminate the hazard or reduce it to the point where safe behaviors or PPE won’t be necessary.