Controlling occupational hazards and reducing risk of injuries requires an understanding and application of the hierarchy of controls. The hierarchy of controls focuses on the most effective fall protection system at any given worksite. There are five levels of hazard controls ranging from highest and most effective to lowest priority and least effective in terms of worker safety. They include: 

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

The first three methods in the hierarchy of controls—Elimination, Substitution, and Engineering Controls—are the most effective. Also, once any of these methods are implemented, a worker does not typically need to interact or intervene with these types of controls.

Administrative Controls and Personal Protective Equipment are less effective than the three types of control referenced above. Unlike those higher on the hierarchy of controls, workers need to participate actively in their use, and supervision is required to ensure these control methods are employed effectively.

Elimination & Substitution

We place this as the top method to handle hazards because, by its very nature, it physically removes the hazard from the worksite. The only limitation is that using this method is not always practical. If you can perform the tasks at ground level, that is the most favourable option. For instance, a job site with a falling hazard can be worked on safely from ground level by using tools with the correct amount of reach. It is even possible to bring the work area with a falling hazard to ground level. Both these scenarios keep you safe by eliminating the falling hazard.

Should elimination not be an option, substitution is the next logical step. Substitution can be something as simple as using an elevating work platform to perform a task at height. That is much safer than using a ladder because a platform is considerably more stable and utilizes guardrails to establish greater protection from falling.

Engineering and Administrative Controls

Your next option is Engineering Controls. It is not as effective as substituting or eliminating a hazard, but designing or modifying your worksite and/or equipment will yield safer results. Setting up effective handrails, guardrails and physical barriers are common examples of engineering controls that can be used at your worksite.

Administrative Controls consist of setting up signs, training workers about site hazards, and devising and executing safety procedures. 

Administrative Controls can create greater safety for the worksite through a Safe Work Plan. That includes:

1) Procedures to follow for on-the-job safety, as well as the safe assembly, inspection, use, and disassembly of equipment.

2) Fall Clearance Distance(s) are calculated to confirm the distance between the work area and the surface below is not great enough for injury or death from a fall.

3) An Emergency Rescue Plan in which an employee trained to follow emergency guidelines can aid any fallen workers.

4) All plans must receive Approval By Management so that the plan is compliant with safety standards. 

5) Finally, once they have read and understood the safety plan(s), employees prove they have read the plan and understand their responsibilities with Worker Sign-off(s)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment requires training for proper use and must be CSA-approved. PPE is at the bottom of the hierarchy of controls because it only amounts to fall protection, not prevention.

For PPE to be effective, workers must maintain active control to ensure its correctly used. Workers must actively check to make sure that PPE is:

  • Correctly selected and fitted.
  • Worn and used correctly.
  • Inspected regularly, and 
  • Maintained in good condition. 

Knowing the hierarchy of controls is the first step to safely working at heights and creating a safer work environment for everyone. 


Published: December 13, 2021
Last Modified: January 24, 2022