Drive Safety Using the Hierarchy of Control

When implementing worksite risk management measures, managers and WHS duty holders are required to identify hazards and manage associated risks using the steps outlined by Safe Work Australia. Risks should then be managed using the Hierarchy of Control. 

The Hierarchy of Control ranks risk control measures from most to least protective. When managing risks in the workplace, elimination is the most effective method of controlling a hazard. However, this may not always be possible.

Effective workplace risk management helps prevent injury and associated costs, promotes worker wellbeing, and encourages improved productivity. 

Safe Work Australia identifies four steps to managing and minimising WHS risks at your worksite. Employers should consult workers, health and safety representatives and unions where possible. 

  1. Identify hazards: what could cause harm? Hazards can arise from the physical work environment, the nature of tasks and how they are performed, equipment and materials, and workplace management. 
  2. Assess risks: how serious would this harm be and how likely is it to occur?
  3. Control risks: what is the most effective control measure that is ‘reasonably practicable’? A reasonably practicable measure is that which can reasonably be implemented to ensure health and safety. How will you ensure these measures remain effective over time? 
  4. Review control measures: evaluate and maintain control measures to ensure they remain effective. 

Under the WHS Act, employers are legally required to implement an effective and ongoing workplace risk management strategy. Duty holders should consider possible control measures by following the Hierarchy of Control.  


The Hierarchy of Control

If the elimination of a hazard is not reasonably practicable, employers must work through the Hierarchy of Control and select the most appropriate risk minimisation processes. A combination of control measures is often required. 

  1. Eliminate the hazard
  2. Substitute the hazard
  3. Isolate the hazard
  4. Reduce risk through engineering controls
  5. Reduce exposure to risk through administration controls
  6. Use personal protective equipment (PPE)

The preferred control measure is to eliminate the hazard. This is often most practical and cost-effective during planning stages when potential hazards can be identified and designed out of processes, equipment or worksites, or control measures incorporated into their functional design. Existing hazards such as trip hazards or unnecessary chemicals should also be eliminated at these early stages. 

Where elimination is not possible, work through the following hierarchy to minimise risks:

  • Substitution: replace the risk with a safer option e.g. water-based paint instead of solvent-based;
  • Isolation: isolate the hazard from workers using measures such as remote operation, barriers or guard rails;
  • Engineering controls: implement mechanical measures such as appropriate ventilation, pedestrian-sensing systems and guards around moving equipment parts. 
  • Administrative controls include developing detailed procedures for machinery operation and using warning signs,
  • PPE includes, but is not limited to, standard hard hats, face masks, gloves, protective eyewear and earmuffs

Administrative controls and PPE are seen as the last lines of defence as they do not control the hazard at the source and rely on human behaviour. Safe Work Australia advises these methods be used as an interim measure or to supplement the effectiveness of higher-level control measures.

Conducting a thorough risk assessment, identifying hazards and implementing risk control measures based on the hierarchy of control will help ensure your worksite is providing a safe workplace for workers. 

For more information and state-specific regulations, visit Safe Work Australia or and consult this value/risk matrix