Toolbox talks are a common method of raising safety awareness. Typically, they involve having short talks with small groups of workers about a hazard, EHS regulation or another safety issue that’s likely to be at play that day.
But there’s one topic that’s frequently overlooked in toolbox talks: human factors.
It makes just as much sense to have a tailgate meeting about distraction as it does to run a toolbox talk on LOTO. After all, both issues have the potential to cause a serious injury or fatality and highlighting the danger could help reduce the risk of someone getting hurt.
With that said, conducting human factors toolbox talks can be a little more complicated than safety talks on more commonly discussed hazards. To that end, here are a few different ways to consider working human factors into safety talks.
Include human factors in your existing toolbox talks
Human factors don’t occur in isolation. Sure, it’s possible to be so fatigued that you trip over your own feet. But more frequently, human factors exacerbate the risk of existing factors, like how distraction can make driving more dangerous, or how rushing can lead to people taking safety shortcuts that increase the probability of an incident.
Toolbox talks give supervisors and safety managers a way to discuss in practical terms how human factors interact with hazards, and to highlight both the risks involved and the steps that can be taken to mitigate the danger. In short, if you want your toolbox talks to cover a full range of safety issues then at least some of the talks need to discuss the intersection of human factors and compliance issues.
By way of example, let’s say you’re conducting a toolbox talk on forklifts. One of the topics you’ll likely want to discuss is driving at a safe speed, given that excess speed is a notable cause of forklift incidents. This presents an opportunity to dovetail a forklift best practice with a conversation about human factors like rushing and distraction that can affect how those best practices are put into play.
So consider weaving human factors into upcoming toolbox talks. Because whatever compliance topic or hazard you plan on discussing, there’s bound to be a human factor or two that should be part of the conversation.
Run toolbox talks on specific human factors
Human factors are circulating in every organization, and a few human factors are ever-present—isn’t there always some degree of fatigue or stress in your workplace?
If the goal of tailgate talks is to highlight risk factors in the workplace then it makes perfect sense to dedicate some of your toolbox talks to specific human factors.
(It’s worth noting here that toolbox talks are a great way to highlight existing skills and knowledge but a terrible venue for introducing new ideas. If you want to do a toolbox talk on human factors then you need to ensure that employees have already received meaningful human factors training.)
In many ways, this type of safety meeting can look quite similar to talks on more obvious hazards. You can start by discussing the presence of these less obvious hazards in the workplace and then chat about steps that workers can take to identify and mitigate the risk. Human factors fluctuate throughout the day and thus are a little more unpredictable than many hazards, so this conversation may look a little different than talking about other issues. But the basic contours of the talk are still the same.
It’s best to keep safety talks on human factors focused as narrowly as possible. Keep it limited to a single human factor that is a serious challenge for the workers you’re talking to. For example, you might choose to talk to a crew of material handlers about rushing, which is a constant concern in their day-to-day work.
You can use the tailgate talk to underscore the practical consequences of rushing (e.g., it could lead to an injury that would curtail their personal life or long-term ability to earn a paycheque for their family). This will help emphasize the risk and ensure they understand why it matters to them.
Without human factors training, you can’t expect people to be able to manage the complexities of rushing given all of the internal and external pressures causing it and the skills and habits they would need to lower the risks. But if nothing else, including it as part of the discussion raises awareness of how rushing increases the risk which is far better than not talking about it at all.
Offer toolbox talks on human factors training reminders
If you’ve already implemented human factors training then toolbox talks present an excellent opportunity to refresh some of the concepts and fill any cracks in knowledge that have developed after the initial program implementation.
Ideally, the vendor providing human factors training will have sustainability options that include a suite of toolbox talks designed specifically to cover key human factors concepts. If so, partnering with them and relying on their resources is the shortest route to conducting strong human factors toolbox talks.
But even if this isn’t the case, there’s a lot you can do on your own. The goal here is to review the initial training and pick out the core learning points. Break down each learning point to its most basic element and then offer a toolbox talk on each one.
This process can look wildly different depending on the initial training format. But the goal is the same across the board: get workers thinking and talking about the constituent parts of what they initially learned, and if possible, how it connects to on-the-job scenarios that might arise.
Human factors in toolbox talks
Whether you’re holding monthly toolbox talks or prefer more frequent tailgate talks at the start of the shift, human factors should be an essential component of safety discussions with workers.
Properly including human factors in toolbox talks takes time and effort. And most importantly, your organization should have an existing base of knowledge in human factors, because toolbox talks aren’t an appropriate time to introduce completely new concepts.
But if you’ve already implemented a human factors training program, then working those ideas and skills into your toolbox talk is a great way to improve situational awareness and reduce injuries.