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Control Banding

What is control banding?

Control banding is a system used to assess and manage workplace risks. It is a process that matches a control measure (e.g., ventilation, engineering controls, containment, etc.) to a range or "band" of hazards and exposures (e.g., skin/eye irritation, very toxic, carcinogenic, etc.). The control banding system groups chemicals according to similar physical or chemical characteristics, how the chemical will be handled or processed, and what the anticipated exposure is expected to be. This system then determines a set of useful controls that will prevent harm to workers.

Control banding was originally developed by the pharmaceutical industry as a way to safely work with new chemicals that had little or no toxicity information. These new chemicals were classified into "bands" based on other more-studied materials' toxicity and anticipated safe work practices, taking into consideration exposure assessments. Each band was then aligned with a control scheme.

For this reason, it is commonly associated with chemical exposures but other similar systems are being developed for other workplace hazards. As such, several control banding models or systems have been developed. Control banding is also referred to as a "risk management tool" or "toolbox".

The overall goal of control banding is to help workplaces by providing an "easy to understand" and "easy to apply" approach to controlling hazards. The control banding model is meant to be used by small- and medium- sized workplaces that have limited expertise in workplace health and safety, industrial hygiene or chemical control. This principle is also being examined for its use with chemicals and products that do not have occupational exposure limits (OELs), or for new processes such as nanotechnology.

How does control banding work?

Control banding is based on the idea that while there are many chemicals that workers can be exposed to, in practical terms, there are only a limited number of common approaches to hazard control to protect workers. These approaches are grouped into levels based on how much protection the approach offers (with "stringent" controls being the most protective). The greater the potential for harm, the greater the steps needed for control.

Products are first placed into a "hazard band". Factors used to decide which band a product belongs to include:

  • Toxicity of the product (how "poisonous" a product is)
  • Ease of exposure (e.g. how easy it is for the product to get into a worker's body such as how fine (dusty) or volatile a product is)
  • Type of work process being used (e.g. grinding vs. transferring)
  • Duration of exposure (amount of time doing the task)
  • Quantity of product used in task (small vs. large amounts)

Once the hazard band is determined, a control measure strategy is suggested. A product with greater health hazards and higher exposure potential will have more stringent controls than a product with low health hazards that is unlikely to come in contact with or enter a worker's body.

Example: Process Control Banding


Adapted from: Control Banding: Pharmaceutical Caterpillar to Mainstream IH Butterfly By Ernest Sullivan, PhD, CIH, ROH, CChem and Om Malik, PhD, CIH, ROH, PEng AIHA Diplomate Article

Note: For more information on hazard vs. risk, see the OSH Answers on Hazard and Risk.

What are examples of control bands?

In the example below, the bands represent levels of control: band 1 is low control, while band 4 is the highest amount of control. These bands are based on increased toxicity of the products being used. For example, a skin irritant that is only used in tiny amounts would require less stringent controls than a cancer-causing chemical.

Band No. Hazard Group Control
1 Skin and/or eye irritant Use good industrial hygiene practice and general ventilation.
2 Harmful on single exposure Use local exhaust ventilation.
3 Severely irritating and/or corrosive Enclose the process.
4 Very toxic on single exposure; reproductive hazard; sensitizer Seek expert advice.

Another example is a decision matrix for control selection. Note in this example:

  • High ease of exposure AND high health hazard (i.e. high risk) = Stringent control (isolation)
  • Medium ease of exposure AND medium health hazard (i.e. medium risk) = Engineering controls (often includes ventilation requirements)
  • Low ease of exposure AND low health hazard (i.e. low risk) = Dilution ventilation (least stringent controls)


Health Hazard High Medium Low
Ease of Exposure High HIGH Isolation MEDIUM Engineering Controls MEDIUM Engineering Controls
Medium HIGH Isolation MEDIUM Engineering Controls LOW Dilution Ventilation
Low MEDIUM Engineering Controls MEDIUM Engineering Controls LOW Dilution Ventilation

Adapted from: Control Banding: Pharmaceutical Caterpillar to Mainstream IH Butterfly By Ernest Sullivan, PhD, CIH, ROH, CChem and Om Malik, PhD, CIH, ROH, PEng AIHA Diplomate Article

Please see the OSH Answers Hazard Control for general explanations of control measures.

What are some advantages of control banding?

Control banding offers a way to assess risks and choose relevant control measures to reduce exposures in workplaces. It also allows for control recommendations to be made for chemicals and products that do not have occupational exposure limits. For most control banding systems, the goal is to produce control recommendations that are easy to explain and to implement by small- to medium-sized businesses that often do not have health and safety expertise.

What are some limitations of control banding?

Control banding as a method is not fully validated yet - there is need for continued testing of control recommendations and the actual exposure to workers. There is no universally adopted (i.e. no single "correct") method of control banding, and each method has limitations. As such, employers should still monitor and evaluate any control measures used in the workplace.

Recommendations developed by a control banding system may need to be reviewed by a health and safety professional to ensure that the control strategy is appropriate, adequately designed and properly installed and maintained to keep worker exposure within acceptable limits. Monitoring is also required to check that the control methods are working properly.

Not all types of hazards are covered by any one control banding system. It is essential to make sure that the system you are using was created to cover the hazards you wish to control. For example, safe handing of certain chemicals with a specific toxic effect may be covered, but flammability and reactivity hazards have not been addressed by the control banding system. The recommendation for these types of hazards is to seek expert advice for appropriate control strategies.

There is also some risk in generalizing hazards when using control banding. For example, a product with an annoying odour but low toxicity may need local exhaust for employee comfort, even though the control band may suggest that dilution ventilation would be adequate.

There may also be errors when identifying hazards such as not enough toxicity data, incorrect data, incorrect assumptions (e.g. that chemical structural and physical differences within a group that may not mean similar adverse effects) or an inaccurate estimation of exposure assessment.

Since the two most common models for control banding were developed in Europe, they rely on risk (R) phrases that are required on European MSDSs. Use of standardized phrases is not mandatory in North America. However, the proposed "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals" (GHS) will use standardized hazard statements, which may help to address this challenge. R-phrases used in Europe, however, still depend on the manufacturer or supplier selecting the correct phrase.

Where can I see examples of control banding models?

There are several different models of control banding. Two of the most used are:

UK COSSH Essentials

International Labour Organisation (ILO): DRAFT International Chemical Control Toolkit

Document last updated on July 28, 2008


Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.