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The 12 Toolbox Talks of Holiday Safety

Protective helmet, mason tools and Christmas decorations on wooden background

The holidays are a busy time for everyone. There’s something to be said about the right decorations to set the tone for the season. But unfortunately for some, the holidays are also a time when injuries and fatalities increase—and it could be because people are so focused on the season that they fail to see the hazards. SafeStart’s gift to you is the 12 Toolbox Talk (Topics) of Holiday Safety, which gives you some holiday-related safety topics to keep employees safe this holiday season.

1.  In the first message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: shoveling and back injuries.

Whether at work or home, snow needs to be removed for safety. A toolbox talk about shoveling and back injuries can bring employees out of the complacency that settles in with this routine task. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. This toolbox talk should showcase how workers can place minimum stress on the lower back while shoveling snow. Here are some quick shoveling tips to include in a toolbox talk to minimize back injuries.

(1)  Be sure to stretch—as with any physical activity, it’s a good idea to stretch before shoveling to warm up (and prevent pulling) your muscles.

(2)  Choose the right shovel for the job (or use a snow blower if possible)—a shovel that is too big or too small can contribute to back injuries when shoveling. A plastic blade will also be lighter than a metal one. Push the snow rather than lifting for less strain on the back. A smaller blade may mean more shovelfuls to clear the driveway but will prevent lifting more than is necessary.

(3)  Keep proper form—dump snow by pivoting the entire body along the direction of the foot. Keep the back straight, lead with the hips, bend the knees and lift with the leg muscles (not the low back). Avoid twisting the spine.

(4)  Take breaks—people often rush through shoveling snow in order to get it done as soon as possible. It’s important to stop and take breaks at least every 20 minutes to let your muscles rest and your heart rate come down.

2.  In the second message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: working from ladders and decorating.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 160 decorating-related injuries each day during the holiday season. When you’re focused on the end result, it’s hard to think you could be injured in the process of decorating. Cuts and lacerations from opening packaging or broken ornaments can be a bloody mess. But the number one cause of decorating injuries is falls. Most injuries are related to falling off ladders, stairs, furniture, rooftops and porches. These incidents can result in fractures, concussions and pulled muscles. These 7 Essential Ladder Safety Tips You Need to Know can help make an easy toolbox talk to avoid falls from ladders while decorating.

3.  In the third message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: electrical safety.

The next part of decorating is lights. Businesses often ignite the magic of the season with amazing outdoor displays and complementary office holiday décor, sparking people at home to capture the same magic. But there are people behind the decorating, and it doesn’t happen on its own. Thousands of people are treated each holiday season after sustaining an electric shock. Electric incidents are mostly caused by carelessness and misuse of decorations, and they can be the cause of cardiac arrests as well as tissue and nerve damage, among other dangerous outcomes. These electrical safety basics can be a good reminder for employees whether they’re working with electricity at work or at home.

4.  In the fourth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: emergency preparedness.

The risks from decorating and electrical safety are among the biggest contributors to injuries during the holiday season. This season also sees a rise in heating, cooking and electrical fires—accounting for almost 2,000 fires each year.  The Easy Way to Have a Home Emergency Plan translates the roles and responsibilities of emergency planning from the workplace to home and makes for a great toolbox talk.

5.  In the fifth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: food safety.  

In addition to cooking fires, one thing that people often don’t think about is the potential for food poisoning. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from food poisoning each year. And approximately 3,000 people die of foodborne diseases. Since people prepare different food than normal over the holidays, the chance of food poisoning increases. Our holiday family safety brochure has great tips to avoid food poisoning that could be used as a toolbox talk or distributed to workers as a handout.

6.  In the sixth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: winter driving.

People travel more than normal during the holiday season, resulting in more drivers on the road. In a recent review of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, nearly 25,000 people were killed, and close to 5,000 were seriously injured in collisions between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Check out Prepare Workers for Winter Driving by Addressing 4 Changing Factors for an easy toolbox talk that will help keep people safer on the roads.

7.  In the seventh message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: slips, trips and falls.

Wintery weather conditions aren’t only a hazard for drivers, as the U.S. Department of Labor reports that slips, trips and falls make up the majority of general industry accidents. Who Is Responsible for Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls? outlines the roles and responsibilities of both employers and employees when it comes to slips, trips and falls and is a great reference for developing a toolbox talk that speaks specifically to prevent them.

8.  In the eighth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: distraction.

As mentioned in the intro to this post, the holidays are a time when your mind is consumed by multiple things. But since your mind can only process one thing at a time, it’s easy to see that distraction can be a big problem that leads to incidents and injuries. When looking to develop a toolbox talk on distraction, look no further than these 6 Resources to Focus on to Fight Distraction.

9.  In the ninth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: rushing.

Leading up to the holidays, employees can feel pressure from their employers to meet increased production demands or compressed timelines. In some instances, companies even provide incentives for early completion or getting extra work done during their shift. These factors create a sense of urgency that leads to rushing, which dramatically increases the risk of injury. Outside of work, additional family tasks, shopping, cooking, cleaning and travel schedules compound this urgency from snowball-sized risk to a snowman-sized risk pyramid. Use this SafeStart story to demonstrate the dangers of rushing.

10.  In the tenth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: frustration.

‘Tis the season to be jolly so how could frustration possibly be a factor? Well, if you combine the ninth and eleventh messages then mistakes, hiccups and frustration won’t be far behind. A toolbox talk about self-triggering on frustrations could go a long way with employees. SafeStart client Ed Stephens from ABB recently delivered a Lunch and Learn session that defined frustration from the behavioral theorist perspective as an obstacle blocking satisfaction of a need or a goal. Check out his presentation (or for a shorter version, you can read this blog post) on the concept of harvesting frustrations. Since frustrations are seemingly present in every scenario, Ed felt it was important to document his employee’s frustrations and link them back to processes and procedures to determine any deterioration within their management systems.

11.  In the eleventh message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: fatigue.

Fatigue is something that everyone can relate to and it seems to increase over the busy holiday season. But even though people can relate to being fatigued, they often discount the effects that fatigue can have on their safety. They’re “just tired,” after all. A Guide to Personal Fatigue Management provides five actionable tips to lower the impact of fatigue and can easily be used as a toolbox talk.

12.  In the twelfth message on holiday safety, your toolbox talk will be: complacency.

The problem with complacency is that people often don’t realize they’re being complacent. Combine that with the excitement of the holidays and complacency makes people feel like they’re in no danger at all. The thought of needing training on it would not occur to most people so awareness training can go a long way in combating complacency. Check out this blog post that can be adapted into a toolbox talk on the 4 Signs You’re Under the Influence of Complacency

Now, sing it with us: For twelve (or more) days over the holidays, the toolbox topics SafeStart gave to me: 

  • Complacency 
  • Fatigue 
  • Frustration 
  • Rushing 
  • Distraction
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Winter driving
  • Food safety
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Electrical safety
  • Working from ladders and decorating, and
  • Shoveling and back injuries.

From our SafeStart family to yours (both work family and home family), have a safe holiday season!

Slips, Trips and Falls Guide

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Discover the major physical and human factors involved in slips, trips and falls—and practical solutions to prevent incidents.

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