Toolbox talks, sometimes called tailgate talks, are brief presentations given to your employees on a specific health and safety topic. They are much less formal than full-length presentations or training courses and usually only last for a short amount of time – 5 to 15 minutes is quite typical. These talks are often carried out at the beginning of a shift and are a way of keeping safety at the forefront of your workers’ minds at the time they need it most.
According to the Associated Builders and Contractors 2017 Safety Performance Report, holding daily toolbox talks can have a drastic effect on the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR). The report showed that carrying out brief talks each day reduced the number of incidents by 64% in comparison to firms that only held monthly talks. The ABC identified toolbox talks as one of the most important factors in determining a company’s safety performance.
In this article, we look at best practices for changing your employees’ safety habits via effective safety toolbox talks.
Make sure the toolbox talk is relevant to your team
It stands to sense that your toolbox talks should relate to the tasks your team is responsible for. If your workers are getting ready to carry out a roofing job, then giving them a talk on the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel while driving a semi-truck is not a good use of anyone’s time. Knowing how to prevent highway hypnosis won’t help when confronted with the hazards of working up on a roof. Instead, you might give a talk on the importance of double-checking fall protection or the risks when working around ladders, parapet walls, and skylights. You could also use a recent example of a roofing professional who was injured due to one of these oversights. This will highlight to your team the dangers they may face and help keep them focused on safety during the course of their work.
Engage your most senior employees
Involving your most senior employees in your toolbox talks can help change the safety habits and behaviors of your whole team. Often, the people who have worked for your company the longest are the ones setting the examples and shaping the culture of the team and the habits of new hires. Engaging them in your ongoing efforts to improve the company’s safety performance will have a knock-on effect when it comes to passing down their knowledge to more junior members of the team. Having different employees present talks also keeps things fresh and brings a feeling of ownership and responsibility for the specific safety points covered. They may even bring something extra to the table that was not part of the toolbox talk template – their own personal experiences or insight into that particular aspect of safety.
Use real examples rather than numbers
Statistics and figures are useful for getting the scale of things across. Imagine, for example, that you’re giving construction toolbox talks to your team. Telling them how many people have been injured in the construction industry due to a specific aspect of safety will give an idea of the likelihood of it happening to them. This is useful and relevant information. Ultimately, however, numbers are very impersonal. It is well documented that storytelling is far more effective than statistics when it comes to connecting with people. While this may mean a little extra work when putting your talk together, the difference in impact makes it more than worth it.
If you tell your workers that 280 deaths occurred due to roofing accidents over a particular period, they might take the figure in but they’re unlikely to connect with it. If you tell them that Jim Smith from Ohio slipped on an icy roof, plummeted to his death, and left his wife widowed with three young children under the age of 5, they’re more likely to remember the story. They’re also more likely to connect it to their own lives and situations – and therefore more likely to implement the safety measures that are the focus of your toolbox talk. You don’t have to limit your examples to workplace scenarios either. The more personal and relatable you make things, the more chance there is of your talk sticking in your employees’ minds.
Check in with your team to ensure they understand
Presentations, talks, and training courses have a hypnotic effect on a lot of workers. It’s very common for people to zone out, drift off, or start daydreaming while you’re speaking. This is especially true if they know they won’t be expected to contribute to what’s going on. Engaging your employees in your talks can help keep them focused and really take the information in rather than just listening with glazed eyes and then signing off at the end. Open things up for discussion as much as possible and encourage people to speak up, even if this means them expressing skepticism or doubt. Splitting the team up into smaller groups or pairs for conversations about the topic is a useful tactic.
Pausing periodically to ask questions that require your workers to repeat some of the information back is a way of checking whether people have understood what you’re saying. Repetition is a great way to really entrench a point but it also helps you to spot if people are having trouble grasping certain aspects. If you notice a pattern, it may be that you need to work a little more on making those points clear and memorable.
How online toolbox talks can help your safety performance
Online toolbox talks are a resource to help you deliver safety information to your employees. There are specific talks for different fields, for example, oil and gas toolbox talks for those working in the oil and gas industry. If you’re looking to implement regular talks then choosing an online option can save you time in preparing and giving the same presentations again and again. It also ensures that the information imparted is consistent and covers all of the important points. Interactive features keep your workers engaged and there are tests that let you know how much of the information has been retained. If you are looking to give frequent toolbox talks on a large scale, then choosing an online option may prove to be extremely cost-effective in terms of both time and money.