Prevention Hierarchy

Combine and optimise.

Table of contents

What is prevention hierarchy?

Prevention hierarchy organises various measures one can take to control a hazard. These measures are ranked according to their effectiveness in reducing or even eliminating the hazard.

This hierarchy is a crucial aspect of the reasoning applied in prevention: eliminating the hazard completely is always better than reducing it.

The reasoning of the prevention hierarchy

While it is ideal to eliminate hazards completely, this is often not feasible in practice. Often danger is a crucial part of the business process. Consider forklifts, reach trucks, laser cutters, CNC machines and welding equipment that play an essential role in business operations.
The prevention hierarchy therefore provides a list of different categories that are gone through step by step to find appropriate solutions.
The concept is simple: the higher the measure in the hierarchy, the more effective it is. However, it is important to note that a higher level does not necessarily exclude a lower level; a combination of different categories strengthens the prevention policy.

The levels of the prevention pyramid

The different levels with concrete examples.

Level 1: Elimination of the hazard

Different layers of the pyramid include various categories of measures.

An experienced prevention consultant is usually well versed in this structure, but it can be valuable to write down the various options and categorize them for optimal decision-making.

Eliminating the risk/hazard is ideal, but unfortunately not always feasible.

Level 2: Substitution of the hazard

If complete elimination is not possible, substitution or replacement is often a good approach. This simply means replacing a hazardous work tool with an alternative with similar functionality but with less negative impact on safety and health.

A practical example is replacing an open cutting blade with a specially designed blade with a hidden cutting edge for opening boxes.

Another illustrative case is the replacement of insulation material containing asbestos, now that it has been banned. There are several substitutes available on the market, such as glass wool, rock wool, PUR/PIR foam, and sprayed insulation materials. These alternatives are generally less harmful and safer than asbestos, but it is important to note that they may present other unique risks, such as the risk of dust inhalation, skin irritation, or the use of solvents and adhesives in spray insulation.

Substitution can reduce or partially eliminate the danger, but it is important not to overlook new risks.

Level 3: Collective protective equipment.

This layer includes technical means that shield individuals from a hazard, as cited in Codex, Book IX Title 1.
These may include enclosures for machines, dust extraction systems, guardrails for fall hazards, and other technical solutions.
The broad protective range of these devices offers significant advantages, as a single device can protect multiple individuals.
An extraction device, for example, is able to protect everyone in the industrial hall from inhaled dust, not just the actual user of, say, a saw table or CNC machine.

These agents protect multiple people at once and act directly on the cause of the hazard.

Level 4: Personal protective equipment

When collective means do not protect all workers, personal protective equipment comes into the picture. This is described in detail in Book IX Title 2 of the Codex. These must meet technical requirements, be maintained regularly and used effectively as needed. Additional personal protective equipment is often needed in addition to existing collective measures. For example, an enclosure protects workers in a nearby office from the noise of an industrial plant, yet operators who get close must wear hearing protection.
Combinations are also often used. For example, everyone is expected to wear a hard hat and safety shoes on the job, but someone working with compressed air must also wear safety glasses and gloves.

Combine the unique features of collective and personal protective equipment to optimise safety.

However, the personal aspect has a weakness. Despite the availability of resources, it remains the employee’s responsibility to use them consistently as needed. Therefore, it is very important to continuously create awareness and encourage a safe work attitude.

Level 5: Damage control measures

These measures are applied after the damage has already occurred. The goal is not to avoid harm, but to mitigate it.
This is why this category is so low in the hierarchy, because the core idea of the prevention hierarchy is focused on prevention, not on the containment of damage already incurred.

Some concrete examples of damage control measures are:

It is vital to realise that damage control measures are hugely important.

While everyone hopes they will never need a harm reduction measure, this highlights the very essence of providing them.
They can make a significant difference in the impact of an accident.

Level 6: Signalisation

Signalisation comes into play when all other levels have been completed. It is ideal for indicating residual risk.
Signalisation can take on several forms, and here are some examples:

Effective signalisation is critical to the safety of both employees and visitors, including temporary and new workers.

Combining is the message

It is very important to give due consideration to each category. If elimination is not possible, it is advisable to employ various methods and means to optimally minimise the remaining risk.
Do not hesitate to seek help from an outside expert, such as an experienced prevention or safety consultant, who is up to date on the latest developments in measures, resources and regulations.

Sources | more information

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