Hierarchy of Control


Working at Height Hierarchy of Control Measures

Work at height is defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as 'work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury', and is one of the major causes of death and serious injury in the workplace.

For this reason, all work at height is controlled by a dedicated set of regulations: the Work at Height Regulations 2005. These regulations, among other things, require employers to carry out a full risk assessment and implement the necessary control measures required to reduce the hazards associated with working at height.

In this article we will look at the hierarchy of control, a tool used to determine effective control measures, and how it can be applied to work at height specifically. For further information on completing a workplace risk assessment for working at height, click here to view our dedicated article on the topic.

Hierarchy of control

The hierarchy of control is formed of five levels:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Administrative controls
  5. Personal protective equipment

When deciding on control measures that can be used to reduce the risks associated with working at height, they should be considered in this order. This is because the methods at the top of the hierarchy of control are more effective at reducing risk and are able to do so with little to no human involvement.

Level 1: Elimination

The best way to prevent harm from working at height is to avoid doing so altogether and complete as much of the work as possible from the ground. This can be done in several ways, including by:

  • Using extending tools to reach high places instead of a ladder
  • Lowering an item to ground level before working on it
  • Avoiding working on fragile surfaces that can easily break

Level 2: Substitution

If working at height cannot be avoided completely, the next step should be to determine whether the task can be replaced with a less hazardous one. For example, a window cleaner that uses a ladder or stepladder to reach a high window may be able to use a small mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) instead.

Before a task is substituted, care should be taken to ensure that the proposed alternative task is actually less hazardous than the original.

Level 3: Engineering controls

The next type of control measure to consider is engineering controls. These typically involve installing additional equipment or protection to eliminate hazards and prevent falls from height. For example, it may be appropriate to:

  • Install suitable guard rails to the edge of a platform to prevent falls
  • Use fall arrest equipment, such as safety nets, to mitigate falls
  • Install platforms over fragile surfaces to prevent falling through them

Level 4: Administrative controls

Administrative controls involve identifying and implementing safe working practices and procedures, such as:

  • Installing additional safety signage
  • Requiring equipment to be regularly inspected and maintained
  • Requiring workers to take a working at height training course so that they are competent to work at height

Level 5: Personal protective equipment

The final set of controls to consider are those that involve personal protective equipment (PPE). These must only be used after all the previous measures have been tried and found to be unable to effectively eliminate the hazards present.

The PPE that is most commonly used during work at height are hard hats, which can prevent injuries when falling, and fall arrest harnesses, which limit the distance over which a person can fall.


If you are looking for training in working at height or completing a workplace risk assessment, consider taking one of our online training courses below: