Toolbox Talking Tips

Scaffold Industry-May 2011

Toolbox Talking Tips


The topic of an in-house safety meeting is important—but only if you can keep your crew’s attention during the discussion


By Joe Covello


Safety in the workplace can be a struggle for many employers. They find it difficult to comply with required regulations while turning a profit. Yet employees are usually eager to not only perform their jobs well but also do so while still keeping safety a primary concern. Therefore, finding ways to encourage safety in the workplace is critical.


Toolbox talks can help. These continual, weekly training meetings typically focus on jobsite conditions, hazards, accidents and near-misses. Such discussions are essential to helping your crews reduce their accident/incident rates, lessen the occurrence of ill health and deter environmental damage at your jobsites. As a whole, toolbox talks—or whatever you want to call them at your firm—play a major part in each employee’s efforts toward building an increased awareness of workplace hazards and knowing the precautions needed to eliminate or control them.


But planning for safety talks is one thing. Ensuring your crew members are listening is another. Are your toolbox talks boring? If you’re unsure, consider whether you or your safety director encounter any of the following during these discussions:

Ÿ  Heavy sighing

Ÿ  Leaning on hands

Ÿ  Staring into space

Ÿ  Reading/doodling

Ÿ  Talking

Ÿ  Texting

Ÿ  Eating

Ÿ  Biting nails

Ÿ  Swinging on chair or unable to sit/stand still

Ÿ  Not asking questions

Ÿ  Lack of concentration

Ÿ  Sleeping/yawning.


Just like class in high school, any of the above are indications you need to improve your presentations and make them more interesting. If you don’t, you risk having a worker who didn’t pay attention leave your meeting and end up endangering himself and others.

The Benefits of Toolbox Talks


Why should you implement toolbox safety talks? They can:

Ÿ  Help employees understand their job responsibilities and how to achieve them.

Ÿ  Ensure employees are prepared to perform their jobs safely.

Ÿ  Demonstrate what you expect from your employees.

Ÿ  Genuinely influence your employees’ performance.

Ÿ  Convince employees they need to protect themselves and their co-workers.

With these types of worthy goals, it’s important to make the most of the opportunities you have to talk with your crew. As you do so, emphasize this mantra: Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Then, to help the message sink in, maintain your staff’s attention during the discussions by using techniques that are proven to help adults learn. For example, focus on helping your workers:

Ÿ  Become actively involved in the learning process.

Ÿ  Recognize how your message applies to each crew member’s specific job.

Ÿ  Understand why certain rules exist—not just what the rules are.

Tips for Your Talks


To ensure your crews pay attention, follow these tips designed to encourage and maintain their interest:


Ÿ  Meet on Monday mornings. You’ll have a much greater chance of making an impression on your staff when you meet with them early in the day and early in the week. Don’t put off your safety meeting until Fridays. How much can you really expect your crew members remember with the weekend in reach?


Ÿ  Convene in a convenient location. Your meeting spot should accommodate everyone. Each person should be able to sit or stand comfortably and relax. Make sure the location allows everyone to be easily seen and heard. Eliminate any distractions.


Ÿ  Emphasize the end result. Always remind staff members that their performance can prevent an injury or accident or even save a life.


Ÿ  Focus on one topic. Safety talks should cover one area of job-specific safety at each meeting. Various groups in a company may have different safety instructions compared to others at the same workplace on any given day. Nevertheless, concentrate your discussions on making sure staff members understand the safety hazards and precautions of their specific jobs in regards to that meeting’s theme.


Ÿ  Pick appropriate topics. Concentrate on issues that are relevant to what your employees are currently working on or an upcoming project that you will be assigning later that week.


Ÿ  Use props to make your points. People are visual learners. Thus, if the topic is about ladder safety, include one in your presentation and use it to emphasize your points.


Ÿ  Keep meetings short. Studies show that the average attention span for an adult is between 17 and 20 minutes. Try to limit your safety meetings, then, to 10-15 minutes. Anything longer than that time frame and you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own. If needed, you can go a bit longer when discussing job-site conditions or issues. But if the discussion is taking too much time, continue it at the next meeting.


Ÿ  Don’t B.S. Talking on a topic about which you don’t have a good understanding of sets up your crew for disaster. Get educated on every topic before the discussion.


Ÿ  Prepare a lesson plan—but only as a guide. Don’t read from a prepared “script”—you’ll bore your listeners to tears. Develop an outline of what you want to discuss and then use it as a guide to direct the conversation.


Ÿ  Interact with your crew. Ask questions. Get some feedback. Encourage employees to ask questions, too. The amount of interaction you receive will indicate the level of interest your talk has achieved with your listeners.

Encourage Current and Future Participation


Your crew members know more site-specific information than you’ll ever know, even if you have a safety title. Use that knowledge to help develop the topics for your safety talks. Get input about staff members’ concerns or simply ask them for ideas. Obviously, talk about unsafe acts or conditions they have observed. Inquire as to how crew members (hopefully) corrected those situations. Ask them how they can avoid future incidents. And discuss new equipment or upcoming activities.


Handouts are a waste of time and trees, so don’t bother with them. They will only cause a potential housekeeping issue. Instead, simply be prepared and stick to a schedule. Start on time and end on time. In your talks, let team members know you are interested in their input and appreciate their thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Most importantly, at the end of every meeting, always thank your employees for a job well-done.


About the Author


Joe Covello is the vice president of United Hoisting and Scaffold Corp., (Long Island City, N.Y.). Contact him at



Talking About Accidents


Discussing accidents or near-misses are a critical part of safety talks. But don’t overdo the gory details. Instead, focus on how and why the accident happened. Your goal should be to help prevent others from experiencing similar circumstances. No one gains when you use the discussion to place blame on a specific person.

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