Integrating quality and environmental requirements into the Hierarchy of Control

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We are probably all familiar with the hierarchy of control as defined by most health and safety systems as:

  • Eliminate
  • Substitute
  • Engineering Controls
  • Administrative
  • PPE

More details about this hierarchy and how it is used can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierarchy_of_hazard_controls

This hierarchy can also be used to apply to quality and environmental management, except that PPE doesn’t really fit. So it needs to be adjusted to suit the other disciplines.

Consider what PPE is, how it is used and it’ll be obvious how to adjust it. PPE essentially accepts that the risk will eventuate, that people will be put in the line of fire, but aims to lessen the impact when it occurs or reduce the likelihood of the risk eventuating even though we know we haven’t effectively controlled it. It’s essentially the last line of defence.

A hard hat is there to reduce the impact when someone is hit on the head. Hearing protection is used to reduce the damage to hearing when exposed to noisy environments. Steel toed boots are there to prevent broken toes when something is dropped. In all cases the risk is real and present, but we are trying to reduce the consequences.

The first three items on the hierarchy of control aim to prevent the possibility of the persons being exposed to the risk. The last two items on the hierarchy of control are only there as risk reduction activities. Examples of administrative controls include safe work procedures and signs. What’s the difference between a sign and a high viz vest? I don’t really see one – they are both visual indicators established in the hope that they reduce the likelihood of an accident or incident from occurring. Although we tend to class high viz vests as PPE it is really just an administrative control, a visual prompt worn by a person. It provides no actual ‘protection’ should you be hit by moving plant.

So if we accept that PPE is really about accepting that the risk will eventuate and then trying to minimise the consequences, then the title Impact Reduction or Consequence Reduction makes sense and can easily be applied to quality and environmental management too.

Combining the learning from this article with the Prioritising risks and opportunities on the same scale would allow you to develop a single methodology for the management of safety, environmental and quality risks and opportunities.


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