Toolbox Talks: A Refresher

The meetings are short in length but key in keeping employees safe on the job.

By Alexandra Walsh

Toolbox talks are quick, simple, and easy-to-understand safety discussions conducted regularly for a company. They are ideally conversational in tone, short in length, and engage workers to talk about their awareness of health and safety risks associated with the jobs they do.

There are many benefits to conducting toolbox talks. An effective talk helps promote a sense of safety in the workplace and makes it easier and more natural for workers to share knowledge with each other pertaining to safety best practices.

Studies have found companies that conduct toolbox talks daily saw a 64% reduction in total incident rates as opposed to those that held them monthly. It is important to note that toolbox talks are not meant to replace formal safety training but rather to reinforce the values learned in training and keep them fresh in employees’ minds.

How Often

Safety talks are often done weekly or sometimes even prior to the start of every work shift in the water well industry. A supervisor or safety representative is normally the person responsible for choosing a relevant safety topic to present to the workers.

While there is no set guideline as to what the frequency should be, daily or weekly safety talks are generally more effective than waiting long periods of time in between talks.

Selecting Topics

Choose a topic relevant to the work that the company does and relate it back to specific examples of what is taking place on a particular jobsite or what a company has seen recently on the job.

Use common sense in selecting a topic. Of course, you wouldn’t want to present “Dressing for Winter Work” right now. “Heat Exhaustion and Sunstroke” is more appropriate to talks in August. Failing to select appropriate topics to present will result in disinterested workers, is a waste of everyone’s time, and suggests a lack of interest on the part of company management.

Observe job-safety techniques. Focus on what is important—and what is mandatory. Listen to and follow up on recommendations offered from the company’s safety committee and employees. Identify which poor work practices are causing injuries or accidents on the job. Plan for and schedule topics at least one month out so you have time to research and possibly modify your company policy.

Get the workers involved in any discussion by asking questions and calling on them to describe their own experiences relating to the topic of the day.

Remember also to involve supervisors or managers in the talks to make it clear to all the employees that the company is behind and fully supports safety efforts.

Don’t just talk the talk, but try to set up demonstrations where you ask workers to act out and perform safety-related procedures, and correct any errors immediately. Always address the performance and not the person. Have the employees repeat the practice until you and they are confident the procedure is now correct.

Outside the tailgate talk, take the time to observe workers performing safety procedures while on the job. Ask them then for their feedback and give feedback on performances.

When you design your own specialized toolbox talks, remember some basic principles when giving instruction. Introduce what you are going to explain, the key points you want to cover, and a conclusion. Ask for questions. Wrap it up with a reminder of the key points you were trying to get across.

Here are potential categories and topics for toolbox safety topics:

Safety Training

  • Whose Responsibility Is It?
  • Why Accidents Occur
  • Recognizing Unsafe Conditions
  • Shop Safety
  • What Does an Accident Cost
  • Near Misses
  • Care for the Injured
  • Accidents Are Avoidable
  • Listen for Danger
  • Accident/Incident Reporting
  • Sample Report Form

Common Sense Practices

  • Keeping in Shape
  • Warming Up
  • Proper Lifting
  • Avoiding Shortcuts

Protecting the Public

  • Vehicle Operations
  • Traffic Control
  • Barricades and Warning Devices

Effects of Weather

  • Heat Exhaustion/Sunstroke
  • Dressing for Winter Work

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Construction Clothing
  • Head Protection and Hard Hats
  • Eye Protection
  • Foot Protection
  • Hand Protection
  • Respirators

Housekeeping

  • Trash Disposal
  • Material Storage
  • Material Handling
  • The Spotter
  • Signaling Techniques

Tool Use and Care

  • The Right Tool for the Right Job
  • Hand Tools
  • Electric Power Tools
  • Electric Hand Saws

Falls from Heights

  • Ladders and Stairways
  • Floors and Other Openings
  • Guardrails

Caught Between or Under

  • Excavations
  • Trenching
  • Dangers Overhead
  • Working in Confined Spaces
  • Heavy Equipment
  • Heavy Equipment Hazards
  • Working Around Cranes
  • Working Around Drilling Equipment

Electrical Awareness

  • Electrical Hazards
  • Grounding Program
  • Power Lines and Mobile Cranes

Fire Protection

  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Refueling Equipment
  • Gasoline
  • Compressed Gas

Supervisor Training

Training supervisors in their responsibilities is an important management function as well as lawfully required when others are placed in charge of workers.

After all, they know the most about the people they work with daily, the equipment, materials, and environment because of first-line supervisory responsibilities. Therefore, it makes sense to train the supervisors who will be conducting the toolbox talks.

Document the Talks

All safety training efforts should be thoroughly documented. Toolbox safety talks are no different.

The most common way to track safety meetings is through a sign-in sheet created for each talk. The sign-in sheet should include the date, time, safety topic(s) discussed, discussion notes, and the presenter’s name. All employees present for the safety talk should sign the sheet.

Some sheets have reminders for the instructor on subjects to research and discuss; others require knowing company policy. A company’s standard operating procedures should state where and for how long the sheets are kept as records on file.

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Spending just five minutes a day, five days a week talking about safety equates to more than 21 hours of safety education for each employee over a period of one year! Making the most of this time can have a significant positive impact on safety for all employees at a worksite.

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Go to the NGWA online bookstore and get items to keep you safe. Included are:

Model Environmental Health & Safety Manual, a downloadable complete safety program that can be stored online or in a three-ring binder.

Employee Safety Manual, second edition, a 40-page pocket-size book with details on a variety of safety topics.

Safety Meetings for the Groundwater Industry, which contain details for leading weekly safety meetings printed on two-part carbonless paper with areas for employee and supervisor signatures.

Click here to learn more.

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This NGWA online, on-demand certificate program addresses ways to improve safety in the workplace and is taught by industry veterans Roger E. Renner, MGWC, NGWAF, and Denis Crayon, CHST.

Historically there are three major loss areas in the groundwater industry:

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  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Electrocution/electrical hazards.

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Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.