Hierarchy of Controls

The hierarchy of controls is a system developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that ranks hazard controls from most effective (elimination) to least effective (personal protective equipment).

hierarchy of controls diagram
Level in HierarchyDescriptionStrengthsLimitationsExamples

Eliminate Hazard

Remove the source of the MSD hazard to eliminate exposure.
  • Effective and no further action is required
  • Most practical and cost effective in the design phase
  • May not be possible
  • Powered roller conveyor instead of carrying boxes

Substitute Hazard

Replace with another approach that reduces the risk of MSD.
  • Can be almost as effective as elimination
  • Substitution may still have risks of MSD
  • Re-balancing similar work tasks throughout a production line to reduce cumulative exposure to MSD hazards

Engineering Controls

Modify the design of the physical workplace to remove or block the MSD hazard from the worker by machinery, tools or equipment.
  • Effective long-term controls
  • Used by all workers
  • If installed and maintained, sustainable control of exposure to hazards
  • May appear expensive compared to administrative controls
  • Implementing lift assist devices, powered hand tools, etc.
  • Removing obstructions or adding adjustability features
Administrative ControlsChanges to the work organization and work practices to reduce exposure to MSD hazards, such as job rotation, pace of work, training, breaks, etc.
  • A wide range of controls are available
  • May not require physical changes to the workplace
  • Worker is still exposed to the hazard at some level
  • Resources required for monitoring adherence
  • Training and retraining
  • Job rotation schedules can reduce exposure time to MSD hazards
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)Barriers between the worker and the hazard that are worn by the worker
  • Considered cost effective
  • Requires little change to the workplace or work organization
  • Ongoing costs for new PPE
  • Resources required for adherence to wearing PPE
  • Many types of PPE not shown to be effective for MSD even under good conditions
  • Only some anti-vibration gloves and knee pads shown to be effective
  • "Back belts” not shown to be effective as a general workplace control
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