General Control of Airborne Contaminants

Controlling exposures to chemical hazards and toxic substances is a fundamental method of protecting workers. OSHA uses a hierarchy of controls as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective controls for hazard prevention.

This hierarchy is based on the following principles:

  • Where possible, elimination or substitution of the hazard is the most desirable means of hazard control.
  • When elimination or substation is not possible, engineering controls (i.e., implementing a physical change to the workplace, which eliminates/reduces the hazard on the job/task) must be the primary means used to reduce employee exposure to toxic chemicals, as far as feasible.
  • Where engineering controls cannot be implemented or when different procedures are needed after implementation of the new engineering controls, administrative or work practice controls (i.e., establishing efficient processes or procedures, such as limiting workers' exposure time and requiring workers to shower and change into clean clothes before leaving a worksite) may be appropriate in some cases.
  • Personal protective equipment (including respiratory protection) is the least preferable means of controlling exposure, and is required to be used only when engineering or work practice controls are infeasible or while such controls are being implemented.

The following table contains the above four methods of exposure control ("elimination/substitution," as the most preferred means, is at the top of the hierarchy, while "personal protective equipment," as the lease desired means, is at the bottom), along with examples of each:


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