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Administration: Office of Environmental Health & Safety

Hazard Control: Engineering Controls

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act. Hazards exist in every workplace in many different forms: sharp edges, falling objects, power tools, flying sparks, noise, hazardous chemicals, electricity, extreme temperatures, elevated work surfaces, etc.  Controlling a hazard at its source is the best way to protect workers – the hazard is not given the opportunity to enter the workers’ environment. This type of hazard control is called an Engineering Control: control measures that are built intothe design of a facility, equipment or process to minimize the hazard.

Engineering controls are always the first line of defense against exposure to hazards. OSHA requires that workplaces implement engineering controls to minimize hazards, to the extent feasible. Administrative controls (employee training, information, work scheduling, etc.) and personal protective equipment (protective clothing, gloves, eye protection, respiratory protection, etc.) are important supplements to engineering controls, but do not take the place of engineering controls.

Effective, well-designed engineering controls operate without interfering with worker productivity or personal comfort and make the work easier to perform rather than more difficult. Engineering controls on equipment may have been factory-installed or added at another time. Most modern power equipment is almost always manufactured with some sort of hazard-control component (e.g. dust collectors, blade covers, automatic stops triggered by sensors). Older, unguarded equipment is often retrofitted with engineering controls, either manufactured or “homemade”. Equipment engineering controls must never be removed or bypassed by the user.

The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than some other control methods, but over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower, and in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.

In laboratories, the primary concern is to prevent exposures to hazardous chemicals. Always work with hazardous chemicals in working chemical fume hoods, which removes chemical vapors at their source. Please see the website on Laboratory Ventilation for more information.