Keeping Toolbox Talks Fresh



Whatever you call them – Toolbox Talks, Tailgate Talks, Safety Huddles – discussions at the beginning of a shift that bring awareness to safety and health topics are routine throughout the aggregates industry. But materials can get stale, repetitive, or boring – all of which mean the important messages being delivered may not be reaching those who need to hear it most: the workers. The NSSGA Health & Safety Subcommittee offers these innovative practices to help keep your Toolbox Talks fresh, engaging, and effective.

Make Them Interactive

Have someone lead the attendees through 10 minutes of stretching and light calisthenics before moving on to the safety topic for the meeting. One company that did this found a decrease of 80% in soft tissue injuries. This also can be good for morale, comradery, and attention. Following a regular stretch and flex program demonstrates the importance the company places on overall physical well-being and preparing to work safely.

A “Bug Hunt” involves setting up or identifying a situation with a number of hazards that need to be identified. This can be done a number of different ways, but it might be most effective as a contest. Divide attendees into small groups, have them identify hazards as a team, and score according to how many hazards they identified. You might also give small prizes to the winning teams. Caution: Do not create real safety hazards for this exercise. You can use mockup equipment, photos, videos, illustrations, and written story-like descriptions of work being done.

Consider starting all meetings, not just safety-specific meeting, with a safety share. A Safety Share is opening the floor to the attendees for anyone to volunteer to briefly describe for the group a specific safety hazard the person encountered or has heard about recently and advise the group on what can be done to protect yourself from that hazard. It can be something work-related or something one may encounter outside of work. For example, an upcoming weather event that has been forecast, a situation encountered at home, or a new piece of equipment being used at the operation that everyone needs to be cautious around. Taking the time to do a safety share in a meeting promotes teamwork, awareness of hazards, and serves as a good reminder of the continual need to be safety conscious.

Choose someone to lead the meeting and have the attendees discuss as a group, or multiple small groups, the safety and health-related topics as prompted by a set of questions. The questions are formulated in advance of the meeting and should be timely and formulated to facilitate good discussion among the group. For example, if an MSHA Fatality Alert is read, ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions such as, “Where could this happen at our facility?” or “How could a situation like this change season-to-season or based on the time of day?”

Prepare a list of safety-related exercises/activities that attendees can do to practice safety and health tasks. During the meeting, small groups of 2-3 individuals choose two of the exercises among the various options and does them as a team, discussing it as they go. Example tasks may include, doing a workplace exam in a specific location, doing a pre-operational equipment examination, selecting and preparing for use the correct PPE for a specific seldom performed task, going through the safety steps required prior to performed confined space work, or practicing with a respirator to ensure each person has a proper fit. For other sources of inspiration, consider topics covered in task training, operating procedures, or annual refresher training.

Start the week fresh, clean, and engaged by having workers start each week with a jobsite walk to identify and address housekeeping concerns. This not only carves out a dedicated time weekly for housekeeping, but also gets everybody moving and tunes their minds back into work after the weekend.

Use Different Presentation Approaches

Don’t always hold toolbox talks in the lunch or breakroom – keep the location variable. For example, if a near miss or accident occurred, move the meeting to that location. This provides a visual element, makes the discussion more connected to the field, and increases awareness. Or you can hold discussions about doing pre-operation or workplace exams at those locations.

People tune in more when there is a new voice or there is new content and there are many ways to take advantage of this. Ask a different member of the team to present the daily or weekly topic. Have each member of the team be responsible for choosing, preparing, and presenting on a new safety topic. You can also ask individuals from other departments, such as HR, to come and present on a safety and health topic. This will help increase attention, retention, and offer new perspectives that help keep topics fresh.

Recent incidents or safety observations are a great source of materials because they are both topical and timely. Look at recent workplace exams, observations from safety audits, near hits, behavioral safety observation cards, or other sources of timely safety information for new discussion subjects. The more tailored a topic is to your site, the better, because it is more realistic. MSHA Fatalgrams are often a source of materials, but these can be supplemented with open-ended discussion questions for small groups that are relevant to your operation. Videos are also a great way to provide a visual element – search YouTube for relevant safety videos and ask the group relevant discussion questions.

Encourage company, division, or district leadership to attend toolbox talks periodically to share thoughts around health and safety, recognize the team, and help direct their focus. Safety culture starts at the top, and not only will having a different voice increase attention, but it demonstrates that health and safety are company values leadership takes seriously.

Make Content Relatable

Safety Alerts, such as those from MSHA and OSHA, tend to be vague. While Alerts such as these can be a good source of content, try improving them by researching similar incidents, particularly if one happened or there was a related near-miss at your facility. Discussion can then center around what led, or could lead, to such an incident at your facility, how to prevent it, and specific actions that would be taken if an accident were to occur. If anyone has experience with the topic you can invite them to share.

The Safety Chain of Events is the notion that an injury is a result of series of events, where the final step in the series is the accident or injury itself. This analogy suggests that should a link in the chain of events be broken prior to an accident occurring, then the accident would be prevented. This can be a useful tool to guide discussions about an incident at your facility and identify links in the chain that led to the event. It can also be an effective brainstorming exercise to identify potential accidents, their links, and most importantly how to break them. Whether brainstorming possible events or using real ones, making them specific to your workplace will help the exercise be more effective because it will be more realistic.   

Near hits/misses are a great learning opportunity. If your organization has a system to record near misses, then recent near hits/misses can be a relevant and timely topic of discussion. The individual(s) involved can also get involved, based on their comfort level. If your company does not have a system to record or share near hits/misses, then one can be implemented.

Listening to someone talk about the importance of hearing protection is one thing; listening to someone share about how tinnitus (a constant, high-pitched ringing in the ears) affects their daily life is another. Encourage employees throughout the organization to share stories about safety and their lessons learned. Stories are personal, memorable, relatable, and effective at encouraging others to reflect on safety. Stories don’t have to be from work. We all practice safety daily and stories from home are also effective.

Consider Other Industries and Embrace Sharing

Reach out to vendors for equipment used at your facility including safety equipment (e.g. fall protection or lockout/tagout devices) or operations equipment (e.g. lifting devices, vehicles, or conveyor belts). Ask them to provide an overview of health and safety considerations and risks associated with their products. Vendors frequently have great materials ready to share either in-person or virtually. Not only will your team be more engaged hearing from a new person, they will have the opportunity to ask the vendor directly any questions that may have about the products.

If your operations have a variety of operating locations, or even different operating areas within a large facility (e.g. workshops vs quarry operations vs mill operations) invite other site or area representatives to a safety swap meeting. The different groups can choose a subject, compare procedures that are similar, and provide the opportunity for improvement. This can also be tried with another company in-person or virtually. Different companies, operating locations, or sites within a facility may have new training tools that could benefit your team. New and different is effective when trying to get peoples’ attention, which is key during toolbox talks.

      • MSHA’s Education, Field, and Small Mine Services (EFSMS) division is fully dedicated to compliance assistance and miner training – they are separate from the enforcement division and EFSMS staff cannot write citations. They can, however, provide health and safety insights, compliance audits, and training. Consider reaching out to EFSMS staff and inviting them to present on particular health and safety topics, do a compliance audit, or discuss recent MSHA initiatives. This can expand your organization’s network of safety and health experts you can call on, make employees more comfortable when the agency comes on site in the future, and strengthen your relationship with MSHA.

Utilize Technology

A voice or video recording of an engaging and interesting presenter can be a powerful and effective way to deliver safety messages and training. This could include celebrities, top company figures, accident victims, or even a great storyteller from your organization. Safety professionals can work to solicit inspirational speakers and record their presentations for future use and sharing. You can also look for videos that have already been recorded on safety topics.

Following an accident or near hit/miss, consider staging and video recording a re-enactment video. For example, if your organization has a near hit/miss, then a re-enactment can include the events leading up to the potential accident. This provides a visual element, can demonstrate more clearly what led to an incident or almost-incident, and discussion can center around how to keep something similar from occurring again. Additionally, the recording can be used for future training. Videos can also show unsafe conditions that have the potential to cause accidents and the appropriate corrective actions. For example, a video could show an unguarded tail pulley and the corrective actions.

There are several safety related apps available, some of which promote “connected workers” or others that aid in hazard awareness training. Connected worker apps provide real-time communication about safety or production issues as soon as they are detected by a worker, so alerts are issued quickly. Such apps provide documentation of issues and may include photos, videos, or sketches – all of which can be used during toolbox talks. Other resources, such as NIOSH’s EXAMiner program, enable the user to practice hazard awareness and identification.