The principles of prevention

When it comes to implementing measures to control risks in the workplace, it's important to understand that different types of controls vary in terms of how effective they are at reducing a risks.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations outline a set of principles to apply when you're deciding on what action to take to reduce risks in your workplace. Some of these were covered in the earlier 'key principles' section on risk, but there's also some others you need to make sure you're aware of:

Wherever possible, avoid risks altogether

This is the most important principle in good health and safety management.

Always try to combat risks at their source

For example if you have slippery stairs, treating or replacing them is better than putting up a warning sign.

Adapt work to requirements of the individual

This involves talking to colleagues and considering how suited everyone is to the tasks they have to do do. Your aim should be to pace work correctly and alleviate monotony.

Take advantage of technological progress

Opportunities to improve working methods and make them safer can arise when new equipment is developed. Try to take advantage of this where possible.

Give priority to measures which protect the whole workplace

Collective measures give the greatest benefit and should therefore take priority over individual measures.

Ensure all workers understand what they must do

Communication is vital to ensure the successful implementation of health and safety measures to protect everybody.


These principles translate to a 'hierarchy' in terms of how effective different types of control measures will be in reducing occupational ill-health and injuries. To see how good you are at judging the effectiveness different risk control methods, try this task.

Using a pencil and paper, re-arrange the list of control measures above. Place them in order of importance, according to how effective you think they would be at reducing risks. Start the most effective measure at the top and finish with the least effective at the bottom.


Try to apply the principles of prevention, but also think about the measures in practice rather than just in theory, as other factors often influence how effective control measures are in working situations.

Once you've completed the task, compare your answers to the hierarchy of control measures (PDF 24KB) in the Risk Assessment toolkit section.

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