Rethinking The Already Modified Hierarchy of Controls

The Hierarchy of Controls is a well-known guide to safety professionals as well as companies wanting to ensure a physically safe work environment. Typically, the first considerations are engineering controls, followed by administrative controls and last personal protective equipment. Recently the Hierarchy was modified to include physical distancing in order to provide additional guidance as businesses consider reopening or returning to full operations in the midst of this pandemic.

While the Hierarchy of Controls is a guide for considering protective measures for employees, customers, and clients, we encourage organization leaders to first consider the human perspective before taking any further action. It’s time to rethink the already modified Hierarchy of Controls!

Positive human connections are essential for well-being, safety and productivity. Recent studies confirmed the harmful effects of loneliness long before the pandemic hit. Humans are wired for social connection, perhaps based on evolutionary survival, but also based on a need for belonging, positive relationships, and support. Times like these demonstrate beyond a doubt the sense of loss from being separated from friends, family, co-workers, and colleagues. 

Therefore, we are suggesting – strongly encouraging – that human connection be added to the Hierarchy of Controls before physical distancing measures are considered. It is not only imperative in order for other controls to be effective, but actually should have always been the priority in all business considerations. Then and only then will organizations ensure not only safety, but individual and organizational well-being.

All of us – all over the world – have been thrown into the middle of chaos and disruption This pandemic is a public health, safety, and occupational health crisis. The combined expertise of these fields is the beacon to guide individuals and organizations. As organizations sort through reopening, pivoting business plans, and revolving strategies, realize that your employees are also dealing with returning to work and a new normal, pivoting life plans, and revolving living and working strategies. 

The world has been turned upside down, resulting in chaos, immense suffering, and massive grieving. Acknowledge this and begin here, at the top of the Hierarchy. Consider the first step in the order of business, as well as safety and well-being as recognizing and addressing human connection. Here are important considerations,

  • Have heartfelt conversations to share stories and experiences.
  • Listen with compassion and empathy.
  • Share your own experience, fears, and concerns.
  • Co-Create solutions to address fears, worries, and apprehensions.
  • Communicate openly, frequently, authentically, and transparently. 
  • Foster trust, respect and authenticity.
  • Develop leader qualities to cultivate sustainable human connections.
  • Establish a safe space – one that is not just physically safe, but a space that is emotionally, psychologically, and socially safe as well.

Now is the time to embrace lessons learned, as well as what changes should continue in order to sustain work-life integration and ensure human connections. Some of the most valuable gifts have been the realization of

  • our interconnectedness, 
  • the perseverance of the human spirit, 
  • the different yet effective and beneficial ways of working and being, 
  • the impermanence of our perceived reality, and 
  • our need for social support and positive interactions. 

Begin from this higher level of functioning by addressing human connections before communicating or considering any other protective controls. Human connections are key, and the foundation that matters more than anything else.

Partner with expert safety, public health, and occupational health professionals for advice and guidance. Together we can we can make a difference; we can make the workplace a better place. 

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