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How If-Then Statements Can Dramatically Improve Toolbox Talks

Problem and solution strategy

One of the most common challenges that safety professionals have to contend with when trying to implement any sort of change is the psychological phenomenon known as resistance. And even though resistance is a common, natural reaction to change, it doesn’t make employees’ unwillingness to entertain the idea of change any easier to deal with.  

How do you reach people?

Toolbox talks are a great way to appeal to workers who are resistant to safety training or change in general. A good toolbox talk should be brief (5–10 minutes max). Because toolbox talks are so short, they can make effective use of conditional statements (also known as if-then statements) to concisely demonstrate the point you’re trying to make and help you chip away at resistance in a more informal setting. Plus, toolbox talks can help engage workers to retain information because it’s delivered in small, digestible chunks.

If … then …

In the same way that stories are effective in helping an audience relate on a personal level to safety training (with higher retention and recall), if-then statements can provide workers with a clear picture of a causal chain of events, i.e., the safe actions that are likely to lead to safe outcomes.

An if-then statement has two parts: an if statement that contains the obstacle, and a then statement that outlines what action needs to be taken to deal with it. For example, a toolbox talk on Stop Work Authority (SWA) would contain a conditional statement like this:

If a worker sees an unaddressed hazard that poses imminent danger on a job site, then they must stop work immediately.

Or a toolbox talk on slips, trips and falls in the winter could have a conditional statement like this:

If it is cold outside and there was recent precipitation that could result in an icy parking lot then you must test your footing before committing your weight when exiting your vehicle.

Change habits to reach goals

The idea is that conditional statements help people work on habits—if-then statements eliminate the need to think about the options of what you’re going to do in a scenario because the course of action has already been determined. Our brains are wired to make these simple connections so they are powerful reminders for action. This helps to make these decisions habitual, reducing the amount of thought required in the moment and, as a result, reducing the likelihood that an alternate action will be taken. And they’re perfect in toolbox talks because of how to the point they are.

All of which is to say, if you’re looking for the most effective way to reach people when delivering a toolbox talk then you need to include conditional statements as part of your message. It may seem like common sense advice but sometimes the most simple instructions are the most effective.

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