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12 Mar, 2023

At MCFP, we offer fire and security products and services to homes and businesses in the south of England. Our mission is to promote fire safety and to keep people safe.

In line with this, we aim to help you understand the latest fire-related regulations and processes to make it easier for you to comply, and hence be better protected.

In this article, we’ll be looking into the hierarchy of hazard control and fire protection in the workplace to help you keep your people safe.

What is the Hierarchy of Hazard Control?

You may have heard of the hierarchy of controls, otherwise referred to as the hierarchy of hazard control. This is a system that helps keep workers safe by identifying and addressing potential hazards in the workplace.

The hierarchy of controls is a framework to help companies figure out the best ways of eliminating risks of fire or other accidents. This consistent approach helps businesses to choose the best safety measures based on their requirements, reducing the risk of hazards within a business environment and therefore better protecting employees. Many health and safety groups, including the Health and Safety Executive, use the hierarchy of controls to help companies keep their workers safe.

This risk control framework is taught to senior staff and managers, who then promote it as one of the standard workplace practices. The five stages it includes are designed to work in order of effectiveness, starting from the most effective down. Let’s have a look at the hierarchy of controls in order of importance:


The first and most effective hazard control measures are to eliminate hazards altogether. This means physically eradicating the sources of any danger so that they’re no longer in a position to harm anyone.

It’s necessary to understand that this could cause large-scale changes to current practices in the workplace. It could also be expensive to do. As such, it’s not always the easiest way of controlling occupational hazards in the short term.

Some examples of elimination in the hierarchy of controls include:

  • Removing any hazardous substances, like toxic chemicals, from the workplace means that you’ll cut exposure with less risk of harm to employees. This also removes the risk of any flammable substances causing accidental fires.
  • Relocating equipment or goods so they’re in lower or more easily accessible positions. This cuts down the need for employees to scale any heights or squeeze into tight positions. This minimises the risk of falling or other types of accidents. Should a fire break out, these goods or equipment would also be easier to reach to extinguish the blaze.

Eliminating hazards altogether is the most effective control measure to protect workers. It requires controls to be properly formulated and a widely accepted system to be promoted by management. This can take time and financial investment to implement properly, and sometimes may be met with resistance.


The second level of hazard control that can be set up by management involves replacing any hazards with safer alternatives. This can be viewed as a less effective control compared to eliminating the hazard altogether, but is still pretty effective.

Substitution is the most practical short-term solution in the hierarchy of controls if eliminating the hazard is not a quick option. This step is still effective as it involves getting rid of the original danger and improving safety through substitution with something less hazardous.

Some examples of substitution in the hierarchy of controls include:

  • Exchanging a solvent-based paint with a water-based one will reduce the chance of fire, toxic fumes or other risks.
  • Replacing an on-site hazardous chemical with something safer to negate the risk of exposure to employees. It will also cut down the chance of ignition in the workplace.

Substitution is an effective way to remove a hazard through replacement. A less dangerous or harmful substitute for something risky reduces workplace risks and is safer for workers. As such, it is a viable and immediate alternative when complete elimination is not an option.

Engineering Controls

The third level in the hierarchy of controls uses engineering controls to isolate employees from workplace hazards. Engineered controls tend to enhance safety controls by replacing equipment and processes. These controls may even mean implementing changes to the workplace layout to minimise exposure to dangers.

Some examples of hazard engineering controls in the hierarchy of controls include:

  • Changing processes to reduce or eliminate the necessity for workers to operate near a dangerous machine or a hazardous substance. Doing so would reduce the risks of injury or exposure.
  • Eliminating risks like dangerous work activities or processes by incorporating safer alternatives.

Enforcing engineering controls in the workplace isolates employees from hazards. By doing so, it becomes an effective risk control method. Although not as foolproof as the prior control measures mentioned, it remains a critical method for controlling hazards in the hierarchy of controls. Engineered control of safety procedures can afford employees protection from harm.

Administrative Controls

The fourth level of the hierarchy of controls focuses on cutting down exposure to hazards by implementing changes in rules, procedures, planning or training. These methods are called administrative controls. Although largely not as effective as the first three levels, they are the next line of defence if other solutions aren’t readily available.

Administrative controls are used with other methods if hazards can’t be controlled without them. Many companies employ them as they’re not as costly to implement as some other control measures, but they’re often less effective. Administrative control measures will likely need constructive buy-in from the workers to succeed.

Some examples of hazard administrative controls may include:

  • Setting up safety procedures and policies for staff. You could enforce the use of personal protective equipment and set up fire training, for example.
  • Designating safety responsibilities to individual employees or teams. The maintenance of remotely controlled equipment is an example of this.
  • Using incentives to motivate workers. Those who wear their protective equipment or clothing and follow other safety rules well could be rewarded, for example.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is any kind of clothing or equipment worn in the workplace to reduce risks to health and safety. PPE is considered the last line of defence in the hierarchy of controls, and offers the lowest and least reliable protection level.

Like administrative controls, personal protective equipment is normally used in combination with other processes deemed not to entirely control hazards. Once again, employees need to cooperate in order for PPE to be an effective control measure.

Some examples of PPE used to reduce or eliminate hazards are:

  • Hazmat suits
  • Protective gloves
  • Hard hats
  • Masks, goggles and earplugs

How To Apply the Hierarchy of Control To Your Workplace

When looking to apply the hierarchy of controls in your workplace, you should consider the existing controls you have. Thereafter, determine whether you can eliminate any hazards entirely by incorporating additional measures.

If you can’t, then carry out a risk assessment to establish how you can better manage existing risks to minimise potential injury or damage.

A risk assessment is crucial to ensuring the safety and well-being of employees and others exposed to business operations. In the UK, a risk assessment is a legal requirement for all businesses, in order to assist with the prevention of accidents and incidents. A risk assessment demonstrates a company’s commitment to health and safety.

Should extra controls be necessary, consider the following:

  • Reviewing the general roles and responsibilities of employees.
  • Replacing any tools or equipment that could be deemed hazardous with safer alternatives.
  • Revising the methods you use and devising safer ones.
  • Limit exposure to hazardous procedures, materials or machinery by rearranging work schedules and tasks.
  • Identifying further safety measures and implementing them.
  • Providing PPE and enforcing its use.

Is the hierarchy of controls required in UK workplaces?

The hierarchy of controls is widely recognised as the best practice in health and safety management in the UK. Employers have a legal obligation to ensure their employees’ health and safety, and using the hierarchy of controls is an effective way to do so.

In Summary

Certain industries and jobs in the UK may pay more attention to risk assessments and control measures.  The hierarchy of controls is especially important in workplaces with frequent exposure to hazards like flammable materials, toxic chemicals, diseases, and heavy machinery.

Workplace safety is vital in all professions, however. It remains essential that owners and management in every industry ensure the safety of their employees, and we’re here to help. MCFP will assist in any way we can to provide you with effective safety and security measures. From fire alarm installation and maintenance and fire extinguisher servicing to training courses and risk assessments, we have a wide range of offerings to support your workplace safety.

We can also advise you on the best precautions you can take for your business. To find out more, get in touch today.