While some lines are more effective than others, they all take critical thinking and the ability to recognize hazards.
Although what remains in store for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Trump administration is unclear, the Agency’s mission remains the same. That mission is to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” And the concept of OSHA’s three lines of defense continues to be an important part of maintaining a safe workplace.
The three lines of defense represent a way of thinking about and applying specific actions to eliminate or reduce exposures to identified hazards. It is generally depicted as a pyramid with the most effective method — engineering controls — at the pinnacle, followed by administrative/work practice controls, and finally the least effective — personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Engineering controls
- Administrative and workplace controls
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
The three lines of defense are used in all workplaces, including offices, construction sites, factories, hospitals and more.
Everyone has a role in assuring a safe and healthy workplace. There are opportunities to help assess hazards, discuss accidents and near-miss incidents, and offer suggestions based on the three lines of defense.
Some hazard control measures are more effective than others. Engineering controls are the first line of defense and they are physical changes to the work area or process that minimizes a worker’s exposure to the hazard. Examples of engineering controls include installing guardrails to prevent falls, limiting exposure to hazardous chemicals via ventilation, using portable air conditioners to combat heat stress and installing noise absorption panels to dampen high noise levels.
Administrative or Work Practice Controls
The second line of defense — administrative or work practice controls — involve changes in work procedures, schedules and training that reduce the duration, frequency and severity of exposure to identified hazards. The entire operation from management and human resources to supervisors, general staff, and line workers — everyone has a role in developing administrative or work practice controls.
PPE is considered the last line of defense. It is equipment that is worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PPE is used by 20 million workers and is very important, but according to OSHA it must be considered last after all engineering and administrative/work practice controls.
The three lines of defense are process-based and connect with the overall workplace safety culture. Everyone should have a say and be able to provide input into reducing unsafe conditions. It can be difficult to remove hazards completely, which is why there are three lines of defense in order to reduce or lessen threats. Those lines connect with each other, helping instill a safe work environment.
Overall, ensuring the safety of workers is a team effort — one that includes management, supervisors and line workers and OSHA’s three lines of defense.
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