The Hierarchy of Controls

Hierarchy of controls
The most effective control strategy is at the top.

As with all OSHA health standards, when the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is exceeded, the hierarchy of controls requires employers to institute feasible engineering and work practice controls as the primary means to reduce and maintain employee exposures to levels at or below the PEL. When all feasible engineering and work practice controls have been implemented but have proven inadequate to meet the PEL, employers must nonetheless implement these controls and must supplement them with appropriate respiratory protection. The employer also must ensure that employees wear the respiratory protection provided when it is required.

  • Elimination or substitution is the preferred choice (most protective) at the top of the hierarchy. Examples include using or replacing lead-free abrasives, solder, and paint.
  • Engineering controls include isolating the exposure source or using other engineering methods, such as local exhaust ventilation, to minimize exposure to lead.
  • Warnings such as signs, barrier tape, and alarms help employees become aware of lead hazards.
  • Administrative controls usually involve logistic or workforce actions such as limiting the amount of time a worker performs work involving potential exposure to lead. Good housekeeping practices to prevent surface contamination and hygiene facilities and practice to protect workers from ingesting and taking home lead are also necessary to prevent exposure to lead.
  • Personal Protective Equipment is used when exposure to lead hazards cannot be engineered completely out of normal operations or maintenance work, and when safe work practices and other forms of administrative controls cannot provide sufficient additional protection. PPE includes wearing the proper respiratory protection and clothing.

For more information on lead safety hazard control measures see OSHA’s Evaluating Exposure and Controls webpage.