As a health and safety manager, workplace safety is on your mind pretty much all the time. Unfortunately, floor workers and managers alike have different priorities, and safety compliance isn't always at the top of the list. Sure, they attend safety training meetings, but if they don't have a reason to remember the lessons they learned, those lectures can quickly fade from workers' memories once they return to the floor. That's where toolbox talks come in.
Toolbox talks, or toolbox meetings, are regular, informal meetings that bring supervisors and employees together to discuss safety from the perspective of day-to-day concerns. Unlike formal training, a toolbox talk gives managers and workers a chance to interact and talk openly about safety, health issues and the like outside a classroom setting. These smaller groups address real-life problems on the spot, so they're an excellent opportunity to work safety into the mindset of your workforce.
Getting Leaders Involved
Your best friends in the journey to improve safety at your company are sometimes the hardest to convince to support the cause: your floor managers. Luckily, these managers are the ideal for delivering toolbox talks about safety, because they're often closer to the staff and have the rapport to engage in authentic discussions about safety in action.
Not all managers are gifted speakers. That's not necessarily a reason for you to step in and give all the safety talks, however. If your supervisors struggle with giving regular presentations about safety, help them out with a quick-reference guide such as this one so they can find their own rhythm and set a consistent tone across your management team. If they're still uncomfortable, work with them to find short videos or other ice-breakers to get the team talking. Videos like the one below can take off the pressure of memorizing the exact way to describe rules. They instead open up dialog about real-world applications:
The Anatomy of an Effective Meeting
When your managers set up toolbox talks, they have a few things to decide for their work teams. First, they have to determine how often to hold toolbox meetings and how long they should be. Your company may mandate the timing and duration of the talks or allow each supervisor the leeway to schedule these check-ins based on their knowledge of their own teams. Small work teams may only need monthly talks, for example, while high-risk teams may require weekly or even daily toolbox talks to cover all the relevant topics that affect their safety on the job. Regardless, each meeting should be short and allow time for questions from staff.
Effective talks follow certain guidelines, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Most of SHRM's guidance hinges on the quality of presentation -- the manager should present the information, not just read it, and the content should be easy to understand. Sometimes, this means something as basic as making sure the language in which the presenter speaks is tailored to the audience. Many multilingual employees, for example, prefer to hear critical information in one language more than another. Presenters should consider that preference when deciding how to deliver key information about safety. If you need help finding suitable multilingual safety resources, try this 173-page-long, exhaustive guide to training materials from the University of California at Berkeley.
Likewise, the environment in which toolbox talks happen makes a difference. On the floor, for example, equipment can often be too loud to allow easy discussions. To mitigate this, offer spaces where work teams can huddle and feel comfortable expressing their concerns openly. This is especially critical when you're using toolbox meetings to follow up on training in unexpected safety areas such as vulnerability. Providing somewhere in which those employees can share worries as part of their toolbox talks means allocating not just a quiet place, but a private one, too.
Working Toolbox Talks into Your Overall Communications Strategy
Of course, these talks are another layer in your approach to getting the word out about workplace safety. Even though they are supposed to focus on each team's unique challenges, you still can provide supervisors with periodic focal points, such as seasonal health and safety toolbox talk topics. In those cases, working handouts, break-room posters and other media into the mix with in-person presentations further emphasize the points you need to make. Don't have the time (or budget) to write up a bunch of fliers? Use publicly available versions such as these from Harvard as templates to get you started. (No plagiarism, naturally.)
Toolbox talks make safety part of your staff's regular discourse at work. These chances for employees to learn as well as air their own questions give you a unique way to customize training across your organization and, hopefully, keep everyone a little safer in the process.