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6 characteristics of a productive Toolbox Talk

toolbox talkThe construction industry is one of the most dangerous trades to work in. Numerous hazards dwell around every site and one bad move can have devastating consequences. Therefore, safety should always be top of mind. Many contractors protect the well-being of their employees by conducting Toolbox Talks on a regular basis. Companies can create these in-house or look to outside resources such as this one.


These are informal meetings between supervisors and employees with topics ranging from new safety procedures, dangers of a specific hazard, accident trends, job-specific requirements, equipment-specific conditions, and more. Often, an overview of the topic is read, employees fill out a short quiz, and then there is an open discussion. But sometimes these talks can seem redundant or boring, resulting in disinterested employees who may miss a vital safety tip. So here are a few ways to have an effective Toolbox Talk.


Make sure employees are focused and engaged. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a disinterested employee. Maybe they’re tired, bored, or think they already know everything about the topic at hand. To keep them focused you can lighten the mood by giving out positive feedback or thanking them for participating (gratitude goes a long way). Supervisors can also engage employees by following the second tip below.


Make the topics relevant and organized. If the safety topic is unrelated to what the employees are doing, they’re going to feel lost or detached. Employees want to hear about topics personal to them – something related to the job they’re currently working on or a piece of equipment they’ve been using recently. If it’s relevant, they’re more apt to listen and keep the topic in mind while working. It’s also important to stay organized. Most Toolbox Talks are conducted in 15 minutes or less. There may be a lot of information to cover in that small time frame so if the supervisor is unorganized then the topic becomes confusing and goes in one ear and out the other. If the supervisor doesn’t feel comfortable going over all information related to a topic during one talk, they can try breaking it up.


Open the floor for questions and discussion. Asking if anyone has any questions and opening the floor for discussion is a good way to keep employees engaged. You want to make sure every employee understands the information before they begin the work day.


Encourage participation. Make sure employees feel comfortable speaking in front of everyone. Let them know that there’s no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to safety. It’s better to gather more information than not have enough during these talks. If people really are too shy to participate in front of a group of people, encourage them to see the supervisor after the talk for a short one-on-one session.


Give examples. Everyone learns in different ways. While some employees might be fine with just reading about the topic, others might relate better if an example is given or a situation is acted out. For example, if your topic covers rigging, the supervisor could give a real life example of the proper way to rig a piece of equipment and tell a story about an improper way a piece of equipment was rigged and what the consequences were.


Provide rewards/incentives. To ensure contribution, supervisors could base incentives on participation. Many contractors log attendance and keep track of who is present during Toolbox Talks. Once a reward is attached to the activity, participation and attention is likely to increase.


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