If you work in safety then you likely know how valuable toolbox talks can be. Short, timely discussions can boost awareness of important safety issues, increase employee engagement and have a positive effect on safety culture.
But toolbox talks don’t just happen on their own—there are several critical steps that contribute to executing a successful talk. Miss one or more of them and you’ll fail to realize the full potential of pre-shift safety meetings.
Planning might be the most overlooked aspect of a good toolbox talk program. It’s also the most essential. Before gathering employees together for a safety talk, ask yourself a few questions:
- What are you hoping to accomplish with the talk? Are you trying to highlight a specific issue or raise general safety awareness?
- Are these any recurring or urgent safety problems?
- Are there any new hazards, equipment or other changes in the workplace that need to be addressed?
- Who will be delivering it? Do they have the skills, knowledge and rapport required to do a good job?
The answers to these questions will dictate the format of the talk, the topic that’s discussed, and who does the talking.
One last key item to consider is when toolbox talks will happen. There’s a saying that what gets measured gets done—and that’s definitely the case when it comes to toolbox talks. If you’d like to conduct one toolbox talk a week then pencil them into a calendar for the next few months, noting who will deliver them and what topic will be discussed. This is helpful because safety talks are a lot more likely to happen if they’re scheduled well in advance.
Once toolbox talks have been penciled in the calendar, the person who will be delivering them should spend some time preparing.
Obviously, the talk needs to be written. Experienced presenters can likely get away with jotting down a quick outline. However, folks who are newer to delivering toolbox talks or who aren’t comfortable public speakers may be more comfortable with a word-for-word script.
This is when many people start Googling “free toolbox talks”. There are plenty of useful online resources out there, and most free talks will provide information of best practices and OSHA regulations. But they won’t tell you how to facilitate an efficient talk or how to keep workers engaged.
If you’re relying on a toolbox talk that was downloaded from the Internet, check to see if there are any discussion points. If there aren’t, think of a few questions to ask that will get people actively thinking about the topic. You can also take a few minutes tweaking the talk to make sure it won’t come across as a one-sided lecture.
Finally, delivering a good toolbox talk requires practice, which should include a reading it out loud. A few moments should also be spent anticipating any issues that may arise during the talk, such as a disengaged audience or distracting noise from the worksite.
After the toolbox talk has happened, ask yourself (or the person who delivered it) how it went. Did everything go as planned? How did the audience seem to receive it? Was there anything that should be done differently next time?
Recognizing what worked—and what didn’t—allows you to make adjustments to your next talk. The review process doesn’t have to be long. In many cases it’s enough to spend a few minutes writing down a couple things that went well and a few issues that could be improved upon. Lessons learned today can be taken into account during the planning and preparation phases for future safety meetings, leading to better toolbox talks and a safer workplace.
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