Dealing with Toxic People From A Hazmat Profi's Perspective

When you are dealing with toxic people in your life, you can really associate the experience with any other hazardous material exposure.

A huge part of being a safety professional is controlling hazardous exposures to employees. When assessing a hazard, I often refer to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Hierarchy of Controls:

  1. Elimination and Substitution
  2. Engineering Controls
  3. Administrative Controls
  4. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

NIOSH’s Hierarchy of controls places an emphasis on eliminating the hazard or substituting the hazard with something, well, less hazardous. Next, they recommend adding engineering controls to lessen the effects of the hazard. Administrative and PPE controls are the least effective ways to control the hazard but are acceptable when all other options are not feasible.

Using the Hierarchy of Controls can apply to our everyday lives. How many times have you encountered a toxic person in your life? Did that person make you angry, upset, or even outraged? 

The feelings that accompany toxic people are a hazard. So, it makes sense to apply the same controls in your everyday life.   

Elimination and Substitution 

If you are in a relationship that is toxic, the best way to remove this hazard is to eliminate what is making it toxic and substitute it with something that is less toxic. An example of this would be:

You are with someone who is an alcoholic and mistreats you and themself. You can either choose to not be with that person, or you can get the person help.


Engineering Controls

Engineering a good relationship with someone may sound cold and boring but stay with me. To engineer a good relationship means you are doing the following:

  • Be involved with the other person
  • Share idea and thoughts
  • Be open and communicate
  • Always be honest and listen to each other.


Administrative Controls

If you have tried the above controls and still have a difficult time with toxic people, then more than likely you are in a situation that you must be around this person no matter what (e.g. co-worker, family member, etc.). Try the following tips to administratively control the toxic relationship:

  • Limit the times that you are with the person (e.g. only during office meetings, corporate events, holidays, birthdays, etc.).
  • Limit the actual time you spend with the person.
  • Make the best of the moment when you must be with the person(s) and limit your interaction. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The least effective of the controls is PPE. Some examples of PPE are:

Bring a friend. 

  • A friend can act as a buffer for you by offering you someone to talk to or turn to when you are around toxic people.

Kind words. 

  • The term “kill them with kindness” comes to mind.
  • Don’t say anything at all. Sometimes silence is just, golden.  


Being around toxic people can be a hazard. Take it from safety professionals and apply the Hierarchy of Controls. You may not be able to eliminate all toxic people from your life, but you will be able to manage them so you can take care of yourself.

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