Those who do not work in the trades may be perplexed at the term “toolbox talk”—but for those who do, it is a very familiar concept! These short 15-30-minute meetings are like training sessions on a single topic. They might include new information or a refresher on something that’s already a part of the culture and work environment.
When done correctly, toolbox talks are a great tool in the arsenal for anyone wishing to improve employee safety habits on a site or project. The frequency of them allows for plenty of reminders, keeping hot topics fresh in the mind of workers. It’s like bite-sized, flexible safety training sessions.
Here are five tips that will help you build a strong culture of safety with engaging, interesting toolbox talks. Keep these in mind as you plan your regular safety briefings.
Keep it relevant
When choosing topics for a safety-related toolbox talk, don’t pick from a stale old list that was developed by someone not working on your site. While these can serve well as inspiration, it’s best to develop themes for your toolbox talks that involve things your workers will be actively doing, using, or considering during their everyday routines.
If you can link topics to current events, even better. That might mean safety incidents or discussions happening in the news on a national or international level. It could also mean addressing something that has happened on your site—not in a way that publicly calls anyone out for mistakes, mind you! Keep it general and helpful.
Seasonal toolbox talks are also relevant. In the winter, for example, you might bring up slip, trip, and fall safety. The beginning of summer might be a good time to address the need to drink lots of water while working to avoid dehydration.
Minimize the boring presentation slides
While powerpoint and similar programs can be useful for getting a point across, they can be a little tedious, too. Some presenters will use a powerpoint presentation just because they have a projector and a laptop set up and available, but they are best used judiciously if at all. Don’t focus on crafting a health and safety powerpoint presentation at the expense of honing your actual delivery. Your tone of voice and the content of the talk are much more important.
If you are using a presentation, don’t pack it with words that just reiterate everything you are saying. Use it to illustrate important points visually, to positively reinforce your main message, or to lighten the mood with a meme or video.
Involve other people
Don’t have the same supervisor talking at your workforce every week. Instead, use the particular knowledge and experience that is hiding amongst your people, and ask staff members to lead the toolbox talks that fall into their area of expertise. This starts with knowing your people well—become familiar with where their strengths lie.
Doing this kills two birds with one stone. Not only do you get interesting and relevant content from someone who knows what they are talking about, but it opens up new opportunities for your people to showcase their skills. You might even find that you have a fantastic public speaker on your hands.
Another way to involve more of your employees is by using more than one in each session. You could form a panel to answer questions about safety behavior, or ask several workers to share stories from their experience that are relevant to the topic. Toolbox talks involving colleagues and personal anecdotes are much more engaging and memorable than lectures.
Don’t make your workers sit in a hot (or cold) prefab site office for long periods. It’s not helpful to anyone—they will be getting bored and restless, and the longer they are there, the less work is getting done. Safety briefings and education around safety onsite is, of course, very important, but long and protracted toolbox talks are not the way to get the message across.
A brief, relevant and engaging session will have a much greater effect than a long and dry presentation. This concept applies to just about any kind of information session—short and sharp is best!
Include an actionable point
Don’t just hand over a lot of information during your toolbox session and call it done. Any good marketer knows that their content should have a call to action at the end, and toolbox talks would do well to follow the same rule. A call to action outlines the action you want readers or listeners to take. In the case of a safety briefing, this is likely to be a behavior you would like people to change or even just something you would like them to be cautious of moving forward. It could be something as simple as remembering to never unplug a tool by the cord from a discussion about electrical safety.
Pose a challenge or propose a change to the workers and give them something to think about during the rest of their day and into the future. This could then be reinforced by reminders at later meetings or other methods.
Most companies hold toolbox talks weekly, some daily, others monthly. There are no legal requirements surrounding this, and while regular safety briefings are highly recommended, they are not obligatory. We think that once a week is a good frequency, but this may vary according to what happens on your specific site.
Whatever the frequency of your toolbox meetings, keep them consistent. That way, your workers will know what to expect, and they will be hearing about safety concerns on a regular basis. Having a strict(ish) schedule also ensures you won’t put your meetings off and push them back all the time. They are important!
Toolbox talks are a well-established part of working in construction and are vital to a strong, communicative safety culture on any site. However, for them to be effective they must be engaging. Long, boring, irrelevant lectures accompanied by screes of writing on a tedious powerpoint presentation will not get your safety message across efficiently or well. A short, sharp and to-the-point chat, delivered by a variety of people, is a much better way to achieve your safety goals.
A safety management software is helpful in keeping all of your safety paperwork together and accessible, taking some of the difficulty out of planning for toolbox talks and training sessions. Take a look at our safety blog for ideas about topics, and start thinking about how you can take your toolbox talks to the next level!