The Site Safety Guide to Toolbox Talks
A toolbox talk is an informal meeting for construction workers, one which can cover an array of topics—often, they are directly focused on the many aspects of site safety. Such talks are usually conducted somewhere onsite, include all available workers, and take place at the beginning or end of a shift.
While some workers consider toolbox talks to be somewhat of a drag, when done right they can be engaging and informative as well as contributing significantly to a robust workplace safety culture. Toolbox talks are a tool, and like any tool they are only as useful as the person or people wielding them.
For such a talk to be effective, it needs to avoid boring listeners. Here are a few general tips that could apply to any toolbox talk or safety meeting to make it hit home
- Don’t feel obligated to include a boring slideshow—use slides only to add actual visual interest.
- Use people who are experienced in the topic you are covering. The same manager doesn’t have to present every toolbox talk.
- Keep it brief.
- Include action steps that listeners can take away and put into practice.
- Always use real stories and anecdotes to illustrate points. If there are workers on site willing to share their own experiences, take advantage of that!
Talk topic selection is the other major consideration for anyone planning their safety meetings. We have written in-depth blogs on a variety of essential safety topics that are very relevant on most construction sites. Take a look at the overviews below, and click through to read the full articles.
Fall Protection Toolbox Talks
Falls are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the construction industry, making this topic of utmost importance. Our full blog post on fall protection toolbox talks goes into detail about what should be included in a talk—or a series of talks—but here are the highlights to consider when scheduling your safety briefings.
- Ladder safety is a useful aspect to cover. Most construction workers will use ladders or step ladders regularly, and they are by nature not the most stable of surfaces. Ladders should be chosen to suit the job at hand and kept in good condition. Users should maintain three points of contact at all times.
- Rooftop work is another point to hit. There are generally specific regulations to follow regarding working on roofs, such as the OSHA regulation which states fall protection systems must be used for any work less than six feet from an unsecured edge.
- Scaffolding safety makes another great topic to cover, as so many job sites involve some form of scaffolding. Workers should be made aware of the dangers of falls from access ladders, broken or insufficient guard rails, badly-installed scaffolding, and any contact between the scaffolding and live electrics.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Toolbox Talks
The gear that construction workers wear is often highly specialized to protect them and make them safer. A toolbox talk will highlight the importance of correctly using provided PPE, when and why it is necessary, and which items are important in which scenarios. All of this may be very specific to your site or project. For more in-depth information, take a look at our PPE toolbox talk blog post.
In order to break the topics down, it’s a good idea to focus on various aspects of personal protective equipment. Foot protection, for example, is one point to cover—it largely refers to steel-capped boots that both protect the toes and secure the ankles. Hand protection is another crucial piece of the puzzle, with various types of gloves used for various tasks like handling chemicals, welding, or possibly coming into contact with bodily fluids.
Up at the other end of the body, head protection and eye protection are important to most workers. A toolbox talk might cover the various types of hard hat and when each one should be used. Safety glasses or goggles are not as common as hard hats, but if they are necessary for your work environment then they should be discussed. Each worker should be very aware of why each item is used when it should be used, and the possible or probable consequences of not using it.
Electrical Safety Toolbox Talks
This largely invisible hazard is a killer. Toolbox talks that make workers aware of electrical hazards and how best to avoid them can go a long way towards keeping people safe—so read our full electrical safety toolbox talk post.
There are four main types of electrical injuries that occur on a construction site: burns, falls, electric shocks, and electrocution. Each of these, of course, require different treatments—and these are mentioned in the blog post linked above. To avoid any of these injuries, include these basic but effective electrical safety practices in your toolbox talk.
- Let qualified electricians deal with anything electrical whenever possible. Stay away from power lines.
- Always wear appropriate insulating PPE.
- Ensure power and extension cords are free of damage and use cord protectors.
- Take good care of power tools, and don’t use them if they are broken.
- Always use the right size fuse.
- Be wary of warm or hot power outlets or cords.
- Do not touch someone who has been electrocuted or received an electric shock until the power source has been disabled.
Extreme Weather Toolbox Talks
Extreme heat and extreme cold are both workplace hazards for construction workers. Many places experience very hot summers or very cold winters, or both, and there are precautions that should be taken to keep everyone safe when dealing with such conditions. For more, and relevant first aid tips, take a look at our full extreme weather toolbox talks blog post.
Extreme cold weather brings with it two major dangers, the first being an increased risk of slips, trips, and falls due to dampness, rain, snow, and ice. To prevent this, everyone should be briefed to stay on top of ice and snow build-up, wipe up any spills immediately, add grip to walkways where possible, and take extra care in general.
The other major danger in extreme cold is the possibility of hypothermia or frostbite. Both conditions are very serious and require immediate medical attention. They can be avoided with appropriate clothing and PPE, effective hazard communication, heaters where possible, and regular breaks in a warm environment.
Extreme heat poses two major risks: heatstroke and heat exhaustion. The former occurs when the body fails to regulate temperature through sweating, and the latter when too much fluid is lost through sweating and insufficient intake. The blog post linked above gives more details on the symptoms and treatment for each heat stress condition. To avoid either, it’s important to keep workers as cool as possible. Shaded and preferably air-conditioned break areas are vital, along with breathable clothing. A toolbox talk can encourage employees to take responsibility for keeping up a good fluid intake and to keep each other accountable too.
Housekeeping Toolbox Talks
Keeping things orderly on-site is not the most exciting of topics, but it’s crucial to a safe workplace. Our housekeeping toolbox talk blog post explains why that is, and how mundane tasks performed every day can create positive safety outcomes.
During a meeting, workers should discuss how they can incorporate good housekeeping practices into their everyday routines. These might include:
- Consistently clearing trash and debris from floors, walkways, and confined spaces. Clearing snow and ice build-up in the winter.
- Securing cords out of the way before they become tripping hazards.
- Immediately cleaning up spills.
- Disposing of any hazardous material in the correct manner—no shortcuts.
- Using proper lighting.
- Keeping exits and stairways clear.
- Storing tools and equipment safely.
A written program or policy ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to housekeeping. When incidents happen, reports can be used to change or finetune housekeeping programs, and feedback can also be collected during a toolbox talk. Housekeeping safety programs can be enforced with checklists and inspections.
Safety Above Paperwork
The topics listed above are very far from an exhaustive list of possibilities when it comes to safety toolbox talks. A huge factor in what is deciding what to include will be considering what is particularly relevant to your specific site or project and areas that could do with some refreshing. Things like behavioural safety, disease prevention, ergonomics, fire safety, hearing conservation, lockout/tag-out procedures, and lifting may very well make the list.
From toolbox talks to checklists to keeping track of safety training for certain activities, safety involves a lot of organization—and generally a lot of paperwork. Safety management software like SafetyTek takes a lot of the time and effort out of the task, leaving more opportunity for managers and employers to focus on behaviours, education, facilitating safety discussions, and other hands-on aspects of safety.