Toolbox talks are the easiest way to bring safety hazards to the attention of a workplace and ensure employees know how to protect themselves against them. More specifically, a toolbox talk is a short 5–15 minute talk that focuses on a particular safety issue. They are also a great tool for sustaining training over time by reinforcing (or reminding) employees of previously learned material.
But given that toolbox talks need to be delivered frequently (at least weekly, if not daily), the ones you find already done for you online may get used up rather quickly. Plus, they may not hit all the points you want to cover. Fortunately, you can quickly write your own—it’s often a lot easier to write a toolbox talk than you might think it is.
A toolbox talk helps the audience identify site/worker-specific risks and provides a solution on how to control the hazards. The first thing that you need to do is determine your topic.
A toolbox talk topic needs to be applicable to your site and working conditions, otherwise it will not be effective. The good news is that there are many ways to determine which topic would make an effective toolbox talk. Start by looking at ongoing issues or injuries at your site—it’s a good idea to talk to people at various levels within your facility to find out what the real issues are. A toolbox talk may be the perfect solution to bring attention to them.
When specific issues don’t come to mind or have already been covered, you’ll need to start looking further afield for ideas. You can go to safestart.com/news for inspiration—we’ve tried to make it easy for you to come up with different topics. We have monthly safety topic ideas, monthly off-the-job safety topic ideas, seasonal topics like holiday safety and compliance topics like LOTO (we have other compliance topics like machine guarding and forklift safety too). We also look at national calendar days to find topics that are relevant to workers, and you can also use a safety calendar to engage employees in building new habits and staying on task.
Once you know what the topic of your toolbox talk will be, the next thing you need to do is find research to support it from a reputable source to deliver the key points of your talk. It is important not to get lost in the research; you’re bound to find a lot of interesting tidbits of information but the topic needs to be directly applicable to your site. Reference can be made to the research when delivering your talk but try to use the common language used within your facility to better connect with workers.
Be sure to talk specifically about hazards that workers might encounter throughout their shifts. Then, take the information from the research to explain how to prevent or control the hazards. Refer to and align with any OSHA requirements and internal procedures related to the topic. You may also want to highlight any other issues that could affect how workers interact with a hazard. This is especially the case for human factors like rushing or fatigue that could make an incident more likely—but keep in mind that it’s hard to discuss human factors unless you’ve conducted human factors training first to give employees a good understanding of the general concepts.
It’s a good idea to anticipate any questions that the participants might have to ensure you have the right information to answer their questions. Be prepared with more information than you think is necessary to help your credibility.
Since toolbox talks are a form of training, you want to be sure that your delivery is well received—this can be planned in the writing phase. While you should use the written toolbox talk as a guide (and as the record of training), the presentation itself should feel informal and conversational. Right at the beginning of the talk, explain why the topic is important and outline the key takeaways. These five tips for an effective toolbox talk can help. Make sure that an image or video, anecdote, story and/or real tool/equipment are used as part of the toolbox talk to demonstrate the point you’re trying to make. Then make sure to engage participants by asking them questions.
Set up your toolbox talk with headings to make it easier to insert the right information—RISK IDENTIFIED (topic), HAZARD CONTROL (research), SITE-SPECIFIC EXAMPLES/TOOLS (delivery). This will make writing the toolbox talk easier and it will keep the talk organized to help when it’s time to present the information.
Keep a record of each talk—include the date the toolbox talk was delivered, the topic that the toolbox talk was on, and the names and signatures of attendees. You also need to include the name and signature of the person who delivered the toolbox talk (whether that’s you or someone else in the facility) to complete your record of training.
At the end of every toolbox talk, ask attendees if they have any questions or issues they’d like to discuss about the current topic. You can also ask for ideas for future toolbox talk topics. Just in case you missed talking to someone in your discovery phase of issues within the facility, this gives everyone an opportunity to use their voice and be heard. This will not only help in step one of writing the toolbox talk but it will also help engage the employees in the toolbox talk process.
Writing a toolbox talk doesn’t need to be difficult. Focus on keeping it organized and follow the three basic steps outlined here to ensure your next toolbox talk is successful.