How the “Hierarchy of Controls” Can Help Nonprofits Boost Employee Safety

January 5, 2022

Start by composing a list of tasks, situations and objects presenting the most danger to employees. Then, use the Hierarchy of Controls to see what changes are possible.

How the “Hierarchy of Controls” Can Help Nonprofits Boost Employee Safety

Nonprofit and community-based organizations have risks just like any other organization. Yet employees face a unique set of safety concerns that vary based on each organization’s diverse set of working conditions.

For example, working conditions at a food bank look different than those at a physical, mental, or behavioral center. Working with people adds another layer of risk due to human factors such as being hit, bit, or lifting clients.

While nonprofits face a variety of safety concerns, I recommend all organizations boost employee safety by analyzing areas of concern using the Hierarchy of Controls.

The Hierarchy of Controls is a broad approach other industries such as construction and manufacturing use as a starting point to increase safety. Nonprofits can benefit from using this strategy because it is a systematic approach to managing risk and creating a safe workplace. It provides a process to help find the most effective control measures to eliminate or reduce risk.

Start by composing a list of tasks, situations and objects that present the most danger to your employees. You can also ask your broker to provide you with a list of your top claims from the past year. Then, use the Hierarchy of Controls to see what, if any, changes are possible.

Hierarchy of Controls


Elimination: Try to remove the hazard entirely.

  • Consider if it is possible to remove the source of potential injury. For example, remove items like sharp objects that can be used as weapons from the area before working with the behavioral health clients.

Substitution: Replace a risky task or item with an alternative option

  • Consider what other resources are available and safer to use. You may already have something on hand. Otherwise, a simple purchase could save your company from future claims. For example, food service agencies tend to open a large number of boxes, and using utility knives runs the risk of severe cuts. Safer options, such as the J-shaped Box Cutter by Slice, are roughly $20.00.

Engineering Controls: Design a process that removes or reduces the likelihood of harm to employees

  • Lifting clients, for example, can be hazardous for employees and the person being helped. Utilizing mobility tools and lifts to do the task can decrease the potential for injury.

Administrative Controls: Change how people do their job to reduce risk

  • This option is similar to the Engineering Control but focuses on how people, not physical objects, can remove or reduce the chance of being harmed. Ideas include creating safer procedures, updating signage, and training for employees.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Use protective equipment

  • If none of the other controls offer a viable solution, provide PPE for your employees. For example, gloves, safety glasses, bite sleeves, and safety footwear can be worn as a last line of defense.

You may feel overwhelmed as you begin tackling your list of hazards, so take it one item at a time. Remember that medical claims, workers’ compensation, property claims and more cause a significant amount of controllable costs for your organization. Managing these risks will provide better financial stability, thereby allowing you to spend money on your core mission of bettering the lives of those in your community.

About The Author

Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP

Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP
Email As the Director of Safety, Aaron has more than six years of experience in workplace safety and 12 years in law enforcement. Aaron consults with clients on a wide variety of safety issues such as worker safety, auto, property risk and other safety procedures. He is also authorized to teach OSHA 10- and 30- hour courses.