This January, make the most of a fresh start to a new year. Toolbox talks are a great forum to discuss changes that will be made collectively among the workforce. The first thing most people will want to do is clear away last year’s distractions and focus on the goals for the year ahead.
Work on habits
People should work on their safety habits all year long—but there’s typically more motivation to build new habits in January with a New Year’s resolution. As referenced in our How to Make Habits Stick guide, less than 10% of people actually achieve their goal when trying to create new habits. Good habits are important because they are what you automatically do when you’re not thinking. This means that having good habits can protect you when you’re complacent and aren’t thinking about hazards or other risks. With enough practice, you could develop what Charles Duhigg describes as keystone habits: “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” When it comes to safety, these are exactly the kind of good habits you want to carry you through. This January toolbox talk could turn into a monthly check-in to see how everyone is doing with their habits. Talking about habits in a group setting can create personal accountability and it will help people at every level put the work in for habit development.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, corporate wellness programs can help a lot of employees start on their goals. If your company has a corporate wellness program, a toolbox talk is a great way to communicate the benefits of it and to reiterate the services offered for those that may not be familiar. Even if your company hasn’t established a formal wellness program, it may have a number of separate and standalone initiatives that are worth mentioning like smoking cessation, a meditation class, or simply providing employees with information on health issues or things like anger management and stress. Wellness programs can save money by reducing health care and absenteeism costs as well as improve worker productivity. Make sure your toolbox talk focuses on taking advantage of things like a healthy-eating class or gym memberships.
Home Office Safety and Security Week
Home Office Safety and Security Week is recognized in the second full week of January. With more people working from home since the pandemic began, home office safety and security is more important now than ever before. Since health and safety committees don’t perform their workplace inspections and duties at employees’ houses, it’s a good idea to make sure that all your workers have an emergency plan at home. Ensure the home electrical system can handle the electronics being used. Secure wires and cords to reduce fire hazards. Use a lockable, fire-proof filing cabinet to protect important documents. Check that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are all in good working order. Radon gas is present in hundreds of homes, so it’s also important to test for this silent killer.
Security while working at home can be an important element of your toolbox talk in January. Network security at home goes beyond your computer’s firewall and anti-virus software. Using a default password for your router makes it easy to hack—stress the importance of establishing a secure connection when working from home. Physical security is important in the home as well. The first thing a burglar would target is electronic equipment like computers, tablets and smartphones. Think of all of the information that could be lost if electronics were removed from your workers’ home. Remind them that saving files to their local computer also puts them at risk if there were a power surge, if their computer got a virus or if their computer crashed. It’s crucial to save all documents to a server or manually backup the files. In your toolbox talk, provide a detailed list of steps to take for home safety and security. A checklist would be a great resource to provide to help employees be safe and secure at home.
National Radon Action Month
The Environmental Protection Agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. It’s known as the silent killer because it’s a gas that you can’t smell or see and it results in over 20,000 deaths annually. It’s important to test for radon during the winter when homes are sealed for heating purposes—it can seep into your home from underground. Symptoms of radon include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, tightness or pain in the chest, and a new or worsening cough. Since these symptoms are common to other causes, educate your workers this January on radon and the importance of testing to eliminate radon as the source. Tests can be conducted by a qualified radon tester or by purchasing a do-it-yourself kit from the hardware store.
Cold stress can result in serious cold-related illnesses and injuries leading to permanent tissue damage or death. It makes a good topic for a January toolbox talk because it can affect outdoor workers even on seemingly mild days. In addition to the temperature, you also need to factor in dampness, wind speed and wind chill.
Your toolbox talk should cover the signs and symptoms of cold stress that results in health issues like hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot and chilblains. Hypothermia results in loss of body temperature. Watch for shivering, loss of coordination, confusion and fatigue. Later symptoms may include blue skin and a loss of consciousness—in this instance, seek treatment by a medical professional. Frostbite often occurs when workers haven’t dressed appropriately for the weather. It affects extremities like toes and fingers. Symptoms include numbness, stinging or aching in the affected area. Continued loss of heat causes blood vessels in the foot to die and the skin to rot; this is what’s known as trench foot. Traits of trench foot include cramping, swelling, blisters and gangrene. Chilblains is repeated skin exposure to cold but not freezing temperature that causes damage to blood vessels and temporary or permanent redness and itching.
Remember, tell employees if they’re working outside that it’s best to have additional clothing available and identify a place they can take shelter near the worksite.
Sunscreen in winter
When it comes to dressing according to the job, sunscreen should be considered one of the most important PPE requirements on the worksite. And not only in the summer—you still need protection from the sun in the winter months. It’s so cold in the winter that people don’t feel the effects of the sun like they do in the summer but that doesn’t mean the sun becomes less dangerous.
Snow can reflect UV radiation which means workers could be exposed to a double-dose of UV—directly from the sun’s rays and reflected from snow-covered surfaces. Sunscreen can help prevent damage from UVA and UVB rays that can lead to skin cancer plus as an added bonus in the winter, sunscreen will provide moisture that is depleted in the cold, dry air.
January toolbox talks can set the tone for the rest of the year. Deliver topics that will be useful to your employees (like the ones mentioned above) and be sure you have a schedule to deliver your toolbox talks regularly. Have a happy New Year!