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What’s the Right Length of Time for Toolbox Talks?

Supervisor delivering toolbox talk on construction site

Let’s say you can allot 1 hour per month on safety talks. Is it better to have one 60-minute talk or six 10-minute talks?

With a 60-minute talk, you can prepare and deliver all of your relevant topics at one time. There’s plenty of time to provide relevant examples, pictures, and relatable stories. There’s enough time to tie all of the information together and to provide small group sessions to encourage active participation, which will increase workers’ level of engagement.

And while you would think it would take less time to prepare for the 10-minute talks than it would for the 60-minute talk, you’d be surprised to learn that it actually takes more time. The shorter delivery time still requires the essential information be delivered but there is less time to engage the audience.

Still, taking the extra time to prepare six 10-minute talks is worth it.

Toolbox talks are meant to be an informal meeting between a supervisor and workers. Longer sessions allow for active participation, but participants won’t retain all of the information provided. A shorter session tends to be less formal and takes the pressure off workers having to concentrate for a long period of time.

Plus, the regular delivery of six talks a month reinforces the company’s commitment to safety and makes it easier to regularly disrupt the complacency that can settle in between toolbox talks. The shorter the time period between talks, the less entrenched the complacency may be.

Many health and safety managers will also have a much easier time getting buy-in from company leadership if they only take up 10 minutes of workers’ time rather than pulling employees away from work for an hour at a time.

But perhaps the most compelling argument for shorter toolbox talks is the length of the average attention span. In 2015, people could maintain intense focus for only 8.25 seconds at a time on average, making a lecture-style talk ineffective.  If you make the talk interactive and speak to topics specific to work, employees can generally stay dialed in for the full 10 minutes. But there’s little chance they’ll concentrate for an hour.

Proper length is one of major components of effective toolbox talks. So before you plan your next safety talk, take a few moments to make sure you’re not planning to speak for longer than workers can listen.

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