It can be tricky to find readymade toolbox talks for the construction industry. Every construction site looks a little bit different, and as any construction safety pro will tell you, their hazards are constantly evolving. This makes the need for construction-related toolbox talks especially important, as they’re often a primary way to highlight safety situations that are in constant flux. It also means that you probably need to make your own.
There are plenty of topics that are appropriate for toolbox talks for construction workers. The list below is hardly definitive, and it concentrates on topics that apply to many different worksites, and on offering a fresh look to well-worn issues. So if you need inspiration for your next construction safety talk, take a look through these eleven ideas.
1. Lifting technique
Safety meetings and toolbox talks are one of the best ways to protect workers from back injuries. This is because lifting sizeable objects is such a common task on some construction sites that workers can become desensitized to the risks it poses. As a result, they can eventually slip into bad habits with their lifting technique. And when a back injury occurs, it can have negative consequences for years.
With that said, there’s an unavoidable obstacle in giving construction crews a toolbox talk on back safety. Picking up and moving things is such a frequent occurrence on the worksite, and it feels like such a basic activity, that many people feel like they don’t need any reminders.
One option, aside from the usual reinforcements of safe lifting methods, is to talk about the consequences of back injuries. One of the tenets of 24/7 safety is that workers are motivated by things that affect their life outside of work. Try asking workers how their life might be altered if they hurt their back.
You can also ask how a worker’s back injury might affect their loved ones—two common responses include a long-term reduction in family income and limiting a worker’s ability to do family activities. The goal here is to show workers why it’s important to think twice about seemingly simple actions like lifting heavy objects properly or asking for help when they need it.
Personal protective equipment is a cornerstone of any safety program. And when it comes to construction worksites, where hazards are many and engineering solutions are limited, PPE use is truly essential.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean that workers will wear hard hats, safety gloves and other equipment when they need it. To keep the importance of PPE front of mind, consider running regular toolbox talks on construction incidents that could be prevented by wearing protective equipment. You can also provide a rundown of PPE best practices.
The goal here is to improve PPE compliance rates by making sure everyone recognizes the value of PPE; knows when, where and how to use PPE; and that everyone’s equipment is in good working shape. Because while PPE is the last line of defense, it should be at the top of your list for tailgate talks.
3. PPE again, but from another angle
If you’ve covered the basics in the last item, there’s still more work to do. Because PPE is such a vital part of construction safety, it’s worth spending extra time, and extra toolbox talks, confirming how workers are faring with their personal protective equipment.
Try ditching the usual reminders about wearing PPE, and instead start asking some questions about not wearing PPE, like the following:
- “What’s one reason why someone might forget to wear their PPE?”
- “What time of day do you think people are least likely to use their protective equipment?”
- “Let’s say you knew you were going to take off your PPE at some point today. When and where do you think that would be?”
It’s important to take a no-blame attitude with these questions. Make sure you take a positive approach and let workers know you won’t get mad about their answers. The goal here is to highlight situations that might cause workers to forego using their PPE so that they’ll be better prepared to wear their protective equipment in those scenarios.
4. Weather conditions
The weather affects safety in all sorts of ways. High temperatures can bring heat stress and exhaustion. Low temperatures can cause frostbite and slippery conditions. In all cases, there is the possibility of equipment damage and temporary changes to worksite conditions.
It’s never a bad idea to remind workers about the dangers posed by weather. Many may seem obvious, but it’s still a good idea to remind folks about the need for sunscreen and constant hydration in the summer, and the dangers of the cold and ice in the winter.
Don’t forget about the secondary effects of the weather too. A flash freeze will require people to move slower and necessitate giving vehicles in motion an extra-wide berth in case they skid. The heat can make construction workers more irritable and require extra breaks—meaning they need to attend to frustration, fatigue, and any other human factors that might be amplified by the weather.
5. “Where is the smoke?”
You can take a where’s-the-smoke approach to a construction tailgate talk in a couple of different ways. The first is to make it literally about fires in the workplace. Ask each member of your crew where they think a fire is most likely to break out on the worksite, and what they think will cause it. Then, have them talk as a group and evaluate each potential fire hazard or location. As long as you emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers, this can be one way to get everyone thinking and discussing fire safety.
The second way of asking “Where is the smoke?” is to do so in a more metaphorical way, by asking workers if they’ve noticed any signs (that is to say, smoke) that any sort of safety incident might happen? If the response is crickets, then ask what signs or signals they might look for that could indicate an incident is about to happen, and/or where they’re most (or least) likely to see a signal that an incident could occur.
6. Large machinery or equipment—even if workers won’t be using it themselves.
Large machines and equipment are one of the most common sources of massively hazardous energy on many worksites. This includes forklifts and trucks as well as larger machinery such as cranes and excavation equipment. As such, they are an obvious topic for construction toolbox talks.
What may be less obvious is just how varied the tailgate talks on this topic can be. It’s essential that you review the ins and outs of any equipment that workers will be operating. Just as importantly, talk with workers about vehicles that will be present in the workplace alongside them. This means that you’ll likely want to conduct the occasional toolbox talk on forklifts and other large equipment that could present a danger to workers on the ground.
Consider asking your construction crew to discuss how they can stay safe when these vehicles are around, how they can tell whether an operator has noticed that a pedestrian is present, and what signs they can look for that piece of equipment (or its driver) might be at a greater risk of injuring someone or causing an incident.
7. Human factors
Human factors are mental and physical states that affect people’s actions. When workers are in a rush, they’re more likely to take a safety shortcut. When they’re complacent, they’re more likely to overlook a safety hazard. When workers are fatigued or frustrated—well, you get the idea. Human factors increase the risk of an incident or injury. And managing human factors is a crucial component of construction safety—which means it’s also an ideal subject for a safety meeting.
One of the best options is to conduct a construction-related safety talk on a specific human factor. For example, having a discussion about fatigue is a great way to highlight the dangers of being tired, the times of day when fatigue is most likely to lead to an injury, and the steps that workers can take to mitigate the effects of tiredness.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate human factors into your toolbox talks. Doing so can lessen the dangers posed by these mental and physical states. But perhaps the best way to protect against human factors is by implementing a proper human factors training program. It will give workers the tools they need to properly contend with fatigue and other states. And, armed with the knowledge and awareness provided by training, it will make these toolbox talks and other construction safety measures a lot more effective too.
8. Emergency plans
Emergency plans are an essential component of any workplace safety plan. As any safety professional will tell you, they also seem to be the first thing that workers forget about. Toolbox talks provide an opportunity to remind construction workers about the major points in your worksite’s emergency plan.
One of the main reasons why emergency plans tend to go in one ear and out the other is that they are presented as a lecture rather than as a lesson. In your construction toolbox talk on emergency plans, try taking a cue from key adult learning principles in safety. In particular, do your best to incorporate elements of social learning by encouraging discussions and applications of their knowledge of emergency plans, rather than just rattling off a list of emergency procedures and meeting points.
9. Falling from height
Approximately one-third of all construction fatalities are due to falls, according to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety. That’s been the case for a while, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But when you look under the hood at some of the underlying numbers, and there’s one detail that really stands out—the single most deadly height on a construction site isn’t actually all that high.
In fact, a quarter of all fall-related deaths in the construction industry occur from only six to ten feet. As this free guide on working at heights says, that’s because it’s both a common height to work at, and it doesn’t feel like a particularly high elevation. Both of these factors can breed a high degree of complacency, leading to a huge number of falls—some of which are deadly.
If you’re holding a construction toolbox on the danger of falling from height, one option is to run through the standard reminders about ladder safety and working at height procedures. Beyond that, you can play a guessing game with workers about what they think the most deadly height is. This can help re-calibrate their perception of the risk of working on ladders and roofs.
10. Risk of falling objects
Falls are a massive source of danger on construction sites. But they’re hardly the only hazard presented by working at heights. As the article “The Case for Managing Human Factors at Heights” demonstrates, someone is injured by a dropped object every ten minutes. This means that falling objects can be just as—if not more—deadly than falling people.
The danger of dropped objects is a prime topic for a toolbox talk for construction workers—for both people who work at heights and for those who work on the ground. For the former, emphasize the need to keep tools tethered and to avoid rushing and other human factors that can increase the risk of dropping an object.
For workers at ground level, focus your tailgate discussion on the need to wear head protection. You can also talk about staying aware of people working above them and the importance of steering clear of areas where tools and other objects could be dropped.
11. “It’s my first day”
This is a great option if you think your construction toolbox talks have become a little stale or feel like you’re in a rut.
Here’s how an its-my-first-day tailgate discussion works. Tell workers: “Pretend it’s my first day on the job. This is the first time I’ve ever stepped onto a construction site. Now let’s say it’s your job to tell me everything I need to know to keep me safe—and you only have two minutes. What are you going to tell me?”
If workers start rushing through all the safety concerns or talking too fast, tell them to stop for a moment and regroup. After all, if it’s your first day on the job you’re going to need them to talk at a normal pace so that you can follow along and understand what they’re saying. Emphasize that the goal is to focus on the biggest hazards and most common-sense safety protocols—which, in a roundabout way, is exactly what this tailgate talk on construction safety is designed to do.
And if you’ve already done this toolbox talk once then try reversing it. Ask workers what they’d tell you if their goal was for you to be hurt as quickly as possible. It’s a novel question that’s likely to get their attention while still prompting your crew to consider hazards, processes and other key safety issues.
These eleven topics all make great options for construction toolbox talks. But there are plenty of others too, including working in confined spaces, hazardous chemicals, and sources of hazardous energy that are specific to your jobsite.
Whatever you choose to discuss in your construction safety talks, remember that you shouldn’t be teaching workers about any new concepts, procedures, or hazards. Instead, you should be offering a refresher about tools they’ll likely be using, processes they’ll need to navigate, and dangers they might encounter on the jobsite. Keep the focus on timely reminders and your construction toolbox talks will help keep your workers safer throughout their shift.