Of all the dangers on a construction site, falling from a height is perhaps one of the most immediate and scary. It’s a visceral fear that many people face, and being high up on any structure, natural or manmade, can cause some panic.
Of course, any construction company should be doing absolutely everything they can to mitigate the risk of falls through equipment, training, and other safety measures. A big part of the fall protection puzzle, however, is ensuring that workers are well-versed in safe behaviours. They should be aware of any particularly risky activities and situations and trained in how to use safety equipment to its utmost potential. That’s where regular toolbox talks on the subject can make a difference.
Toolbox talk best practice
A good way to start off your toolbox talk is to give examples of situations that can arise when proper procedures are not followed, then speak to these possibilities with tips and guidelines for how to prevent them from happening—this brings a sense of reality to the meeting. If you can use real examples or examples relevant to your specific site, all the better.
Your talk should also include time for a question-and-answer session with the trainer or person in charge, to allow workers to voice concerns and have them answered. It can be a good idea to ask about any personal experiences with falls or effective fall protection. Do what you can to encourage participation by everyone, and avoid ridiculing any serious contribution to the discussion. The session should leave those listening feeling both inspired and heard.
Most toolbox talks have a tight timeframe, so guide any discussion back on track if it heads too far out on a tangent.
Fall protection topics to cover
You probably can’t cover all of these in any depth in just one toolbox talk. To properly discuss fall protection may require multiple meetings, whether they are in succession or spread out amongst other topics.
This topic is a big one, as ladders, particularly portable ones, can be one of the most precarious places a construction worker encounters. It’s likely that all of your workers will have used a ladder at some point, be it at work or home—so there should be plenty of relevant anecdotes.
The American Ladder Institute has some great points about basic ladder safety, which should be covered in your toolbox talk. Standout important tips include:
- Choose the right ladder. Make sure it is high enough, sturdy enough for the weight it will need to hold, and whether it can adapt to the surface it will be placed on (i.e uneven ground). If you are working near sources of electricity, metal ladders should be avoided.
- Climb carefully. Don’t use ladders when feeling lightheaded or impaired, wear shoes with grip, take your time, and don’t lean to far away from the ladder. Make sure you have no loose clothing or equipment that can catch on anything, and ensure both hands are free for climbing.
- Always have three points of contact with the ladder: a foot and two hands, or a hand and two feet.
- Always make sure your ladder is in top working condition.
Rooftop fall prevention
A lot of construction workers will find themselves carrying out tasks on a roof during any given project. Being elevated by nature, roofs are generally quite hazardous work surfaces and, depending on what’s going on on your site, make a good topic for a toolbox talk.
A toolbox talk about working on roofs should be relevant to the conditions that might arise on your site or project. It should cover which safety equipment to use, where harnesses are required, and any hazards to look out for such as skylights and weak spots in the roof. The importance of only moving on and through safe areas should be emphasized, and more information that’s specific to the job site could be given. The effects of weather should be covered, and again this can be relevant to your particular location.
There are often regulations by governing bodies that stipulate when protective equipment must be used for roof work. For example, in the United States OSHA states that fall protection systems are required for any work taking place less than six feet from an unsecured roof edge. Any such regulations should be discussed during these talks so that workers are familiar with them.
Along the same lines as ladders and rooftops, scaffolding is a hot topic for fall protection. Designed to allow teams of workers to reach parts of a building that are high up, scaffolding systems vary widely so it can be tricky to teach workers how to use them safely across the board.
To start, for scaffolding to be safe it must be well-designed and constructed. Outside contractors often do this, but if workers on your team are setting it up, they should do so with weather conditions, slopes, and other factors in mind.
A good toolbox talk on scaffolding safety might start with an example of a potential incident, such as someone slipping on a slick surface and falling. Discussion and advice on how that can be prevented might follow. Other examples of what can go wrong include:
- Items falling from above and injuring those below.
- Falls from access ladders.
- Falls due to insufficient guard rails.
- Broken or badly installed scaffolding.
- Contact between scaffolding and live electrics.
A scaffolding safety toolbox talk should make workers aware of the possible hazards involved in using scaffolding, and provide solutions for avoiding incident. Safety Culture has more great scaffolding safety tips.
Other talk topics
The three outlined above are just a few ideas for fall protection toolbox talks. Choosing what to cover in your sessions will be guided by the unique circumstances of your site and project. You might need to cover proper use of personal fall arrest systems if they are in common use amongst your teams, or safety working at heights in snow and ice if that’s relevant to your geographical location. There are many possibilities, and your toolbox talk agenda should be tailored to your construction site.
Go forth and fill the toolboxes
Toolbox talks don’t have to be boring lectures that are dreaded by all who attend. They can be fun, engaging, and interesting—take a look at our tips for knocking toolbox talks out of the park. Fall protection is a hugely important topic and one that should be covered well and thoroughly.
SafetyTek is all about keeping people safe on construction sites. By reducing the amount of paperwork and administrative time required to keep track of safety systems, we can help to save time, money, and sometimes lives. Take a look at the features of our platform to find out whether they could be of use to your company.