How to Run an Effective Toolbox Talk
Toolbox talks, tailgate meetings, pre-work safety meetings – whatever you want to call them, these brief safety sessions can be a valuable opportunity. They help focus your workforce on safety, prior to the beginning of their work shift, and they are an opportunity for you to ensure that all of your employees are fit for duty.
Or, they can be dreadfully boring, disorganized, snooze-fests.
Meetings for the sake of meetings are inefficient and often serve no purpose other than giving the workforce something to complain about. Your toolbox talks need to be run properly to ensure that your workers are not just paying attention, but benefitting from the time spent. They need to be run in a way that will remind your employees what they should be concentrating on or to impart brand new knowledge on them. If your workforce is bored, distracted, or otherwise disengaged, you will achieve nothing other than keeping your people from working.
So, how do you do it right?
Don't Read to Them
If you think grabbing the safety write-up that gets emailed to you weekly and reading it to the workforce is going to get the job done, think again. Nothing is easier to tune out than somebody reading words off a page. Unless you’re planning on doing impressions and cartoon voices, your employees will see this as nap time. Doing it this way makes it harder for you to put any feeling into what you’re saying, difficult to make eye contact with the people you are addressing, and it puts the idea in the mind of your audience that maybe you don’t know anything about the material you’re trying to present to them. Read those weekly mailings (if that’s what you’re using) ahead of time. Familiarize yourself with the topic. I know we’ve all got a love/hate relationship with the internet, but here’s an opportunity to take advantage of the “love” part of it. Do some research. Find news stories relevant to what you’re discussing and other supplemental information. Show your workers how your topic applies in the real world. If you need inspiration or ideas on what to discuss with your team, subscribe to the Simplified Safety newsletter. Just don’t read right off the page!
Engage your Audience
So, once you’re armed with all the information the internet can provide (from reputable sources, please!), what’s next?
Have a conversation.
Talk with your employees about the chosen safety topic, not at them. Think back to your school days. Which classes did you find more entertaining: the ones where your teachers engaged you and got you to participate, or the ones where the teacher stood in the front of the class and lectured at you…on and on and on? I’m guessing the former. And, make no mistake, entertainment is important. No, you don’t have to tell jokes and juggle (though juggling would be cool…just not knives…or fire…these are safety meetings for Pete’s sake!), but you do need to give your audience a reason to want to pay attention. Don’t speak in a monotone voice unless you want to lull your employees off to La-La-Land. DO tell related stories from personal experience, ask questions of your audience, and have them tell their own personal anecdotes (but don’t let this run wildly off topic or take an inordinate amount of time - you still need to control the meeting). Do all this and watch their attention grow. The more they pay attention, the more they’ll learn.
Does most of your work involve digging excavations? Then don’t do a toolbox talk on steel erection. Do you do a vast majority of your work at heights? Then why are you discussing forklift safety? If your topic doesn’t apply to the work you do, then why teach it? Now, there are topics that don’t apply as much as other topics do or as frequently, but still apply. You don’t need to eliminate those, though they may only serve more as backup topics once your main topics are exhausted. However, if the topic has nothing to do with what your people do then toss it. Find a replacement. Try and have a backlog of topics. The Simplified Safety blog archive is a great place to find inspiration.
There's a Time and Place
If my parents told me this once they told me a thousand times, “There’s a time and a place for everything.” I’m sure many of you are nodding your heads in agreement. And, most of the time it was followed by, “And this is neither the time nor the place!” Well, luckily my judgment has improved over the years. And you know what? Mom and Dad were on to something. When and where you hold your toolbox talks play a big part in how successful or unsuccessful they will be. Holding a toolbox talk in the work area is a good idea because it may be easier to demonstrate something you’re teaching or it may just mean people are already focused on their work. It can also be a terrible idea if the work place is loud, uncomfortable, or offers other distractions. Immediately following lunch can be a great time to hold a meeting because you can find everybody in one place, but it could also be a terrible idea as everyone struggles to fight off their food-comas. Make sure that the time and place you choose to hold your meeting is conducive to learning because that’s the ultimate goal.
Toolbox talks don’t have to be tricky. Sure you might be a Pinterest-level demonstrator who’s got all kinds of fancy, outside the box ideas and visual aids, but you can hold a great toolbox talk without all that. Just remember though, while it can be simple to have a great toolbox talk, it’s also fairly easy to turn a topic that had potential into a poor use of company time. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.” Know your material, know your audience, know your environment, and make sure everything you plan works within those parameters. If not, change it up. Better to delay a toolbox talk and get it right, than to have your workers walk away from your meeting with nothing to show for it.