Critical Elements for an Effective Safety Meeting

Published: September 3, 2019


Across the United States toolbox talks are being utilized by a multitude of companies in every facet of construction, manufacturing, and other industries. But why do we deliver these toolbox talks? Why are they so important? We do not simply give toolbox talks because we have to, but rather because it is an efficient way to discuss safety concerns and areas of emphasis. If done correctly, toolbox talks can be an extremely effective way to engage employees, discuss safety concerns, and provide safety training in a short period of time. 

Selecting the Topic

The topic is just as important as the message you want to deliver. When deciding what activity to discuss first walk around the site. What tasks are the employees engaged in? What issues are you seeing that need addressed? Is there a trend with incidents or near misses? Consider the temperature, time of year, season, holiday when selecting a topic. You don’t want to talk about heat stress in November when the temperatures are dropping. Make it relevant and specific to the audience. Do not read information from a screen or piece of paper. The more specific and engaging you are with the information and audience will determine the amount of information retained. 

Know Your Audience

Use vocabulary that the audience will understand. Too many times safety professionals get in front of a large group of workers and feel the need to show “how smart they are” by using big, fancy words. Speak to employees on a level that they will understand and be able to interpret the main points of emphasis. Ensure the talking points are interesting to the craft you are engaging. If you have a group of electricians would you want to talk about excavation safety…probably not. Rather you would discuss electrical hazards, ladder safety, confined spaces, fall protection, etc. These are the types of hazards that they would encounter on a regular basis, therefore they can relate to what you are saying. Another concept to consider is the ethnicity and culture of the employees you are addressing. Certain mannerisms and everyday words/motions may be found offensive by other cultures. Therefore, it is important to research the different cultural DO’s and DON’Ts before delivering a toolbox talk. 

Delivering the Message

Keep it short, sweet and to the point. Dragging a toolbox talk on for more than twenty to twenty-five minutes will cause the audience to lose interest in what you are discussing. Body language can be just as important, if not more, than the spoken words ! Be enthusiastic with your presentation. If you are excited about what you are presenting, your employees will be more inclined to listen. Related to “knowing your audience”, there is often a language barrier in the construction industry that must be overcome. There is a large uptick in Spanish speaking workers in the construction workforce. It is important to convey your message in a language that can be understood by all. During the course of my career I have given hundreds to thousands of toolbox talks. Frequently I would deliver the message in both English and Spanish. If you are like me and your Spanish is “lacking” (non-existent) it is imperative that you entrust someone to interpret as you speak. Often times I would utilize knowledgeable foreman who have the respect of their peers to help deliver the safety message. Employees can often be your greatest resource. 

Getting Employees Involved

Make your toolbox talks interactive. Ask questions and get answers. Hold an open conversation at the end of the discussion. Open the floor for others to speak up and address what other safety concerns employees on site have. Ask employees for personal experiences with the topic. Tell stories of good catches or incidents. When you make a topic relatable or have an employee who can speak on a topic from experience it enhances the chances that the message will be delivered.  

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