Safety in the workplace is a top priority for any business, from entry-level all the way to the executive suite. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to drown crucial safety information in layers of boring, drawn-out presentations. Just about anything becomes a welcome distraction when employees feel like they’re trudging through a barren wasteland of bullet points and run-on sentences.
When employees are stuck in that wasteland, waiting for the toolbox talk to be over, they’re rarely listening to what’s being said—and can we really blame them? Whether you’re in charge of implementing or teaching safety standards, how you present the information matters, perhaps more than many employers realize.
Your Presentation Shouldn’t Sedate Employees
Construction is the most dangerous industry in the US. With one-in-five work-related deaths being attributed to some heavy equipment or job site, toolbox talks' importance increases exponentially.
Why deliver information in a way that puts your participants into a comatose state when missing a single procedural change can lead to dangerous and expensive mistakes? Believe it or not, sharing and teaching information related to safety can be engaging! How?
People learn best by engaging with the world around us. According to a 2006 article released by the American Psychological Association, “…Sam Houston State University psychologist Randy Garner, Ph.D., found that students were more likely to recall a statistics lecture when it was interjected with jokes about relevant topics.”
This makes sense when we think about how often we recite our favorite comedy routines or think back to some of our favorite teachers. These people often have a knack for grabbing our attention and being memorable. Therefore, the question becomes: how can you implement those same tools in your workplace safety culture?
Safety is a serious topic, and while everyone must understand that, it also needs to relatable. Putting together an effective safety meeting should involve:
- An excellent speaker who can deliver the information in a way that’s entertaining and informative,
- Visual aids that can help everyone make better connections and improve the retention of information,
- Technology that is available and applicable to the situation,
- A meeting place (when not on-site) where everyone can hear and be seated comfortably, and
- A method to follow up with questions and to extend the dialogue
Improving Toolbox Talk Engagement
Because construction is largely a hands-on industry, safety programs should ideally be taught in the same way. A toolbox talk shouldn’t consist of a room full of employees sitting quietly while someone talks at them. Some employers opt to conduct safety training on-site when it’s appropriate—when it’s not, engaging the audience in the discussion is still essential.
Encourage Employees to Interact with the Speaker
Sometimes, people need permission to get involved. Before starting, remind participants that you welcome their questions. During the discussion, take frequent breaks to open the floor to the audience, allowing them to pose questions and clarify their understand. This gives them ownership of what’s being taught and increases their attentiveness. Often, several people have the same question, and answering it for one helps the others, too!
Ask the audience to convey their own examples that relate to what’s being discussed. This makes the toolbox talk personal in ways that other training sessions aren’t. Pay attention to what you can learn from the experiences of employees. This can help to improve future training sessions and gives you access to ground level insights. Of course, keep a good balance of audience interaction and information presentation.
Walkthrough Workplace Simulations
This particular tactic is actually a lot of fun from both sides of the desk. Group audience members together and have them act out a safety scenario. Depending on your company culture, you can even have them act out the “wrong” way first, which incorporates humor and lightens the mood.
Recognize Exceptional Employees
Employee recognition is a huge motivational force in the workplace. It teaches people to push their own performance. Recognition can come in many forms, from a simple verbal acknowledgment to prizes and other incentives that we’ll cover next.
Use the toolbox talk to reward the “safest” employees in front of their peers by allowing them to deliver a part of the material they have experience with. Creating a network of highly trained employees who care about construction safety is as simple as appreciating people who work hard and follow procedures.
Offer Safety Incentives That Actually Work
When a person is present and aware of their surroundings, they’re less likely to make mistakes. Creating incentives for successful workplace safety procedures is a great way to keep employees focused on the task at hand. Financial incentives may be the most common example, but there are plenty of other ways to reward a job well done.
- End of quarter bonuses for measurable safety compliance creates an ongoing incentive that anyone’s wallet will welcome. Recurring rewards can create friendly competition that pushes employees to improve their performance over time.
- Employment opportunities like promotions are another powerful incentive for anyone in the workplace. Making it clear that promotion is on the table keeps employees working towards something instead of falling prey to the doldrums of career stagnation.
- Vacation days or paid time off can work well for larger companies that don’t face staffing issues. Who doesn’t love getting paid to read a magazine in the garden?
- Public praise is another fantastic way to make employees feel recognized and important. We’ve all seen “employee of the month” parking spaces and plaques, which are one way of praising people publicly. A simple office announcement can also work wonders if the employee you’re praising is not shy. Regardless of how you do it, if someone is upholding the safety standards and doing a good job, tell them!
These are just a few examples to help you get creative with your incentives. There are endless ways to incentivize workplace safety and retention of those toolbox talks.
Technology Can Reduce Human Error
Toolbox talks are usually intended to be pretty brief, but they still require some preparation. The safety lead is responsible for making sure that every new training procedure meets regulatory standards. A lot of organization goes into this, and it can be easy to miss or misplace something vital.
Digital forms are a huge asset to your company’s safety programs, allowing employers and insurance companies to track participation instantaneously, keeping the organization in compliance. The laptop has replaced the briefcase, file cabinets are obsolete, and real-time communication is essential these days.
Human error is normal but can be a real problem for topics that have strict requirements. Using the right technology can virtually eliminate human error to ensure consistent and accurate information.
Employees Can Look Forward to your Toolbox Talks
We’ve never known of some archaic rule that says toolbox talks have to be boring. Get to know your participants, relate to them and use these suggestions to liven up your training sessions. You don’t have to be a comedian to help increase retention and decrease workplace accidents (although it helps!). Do you have other ideas for making mandatory work safety meetings & procedures more engaging? Leave a reply down below—we’d love to hear them!