Sitting off to the side, I watched as two employees gave a five minute presentation. They spoke about one of their latest safety projects, explaining an identified hazard and how they addressed it. They radiated pride and excitement.

The two employees worked on a production line in our factory and were speaking as part of a safety meeting. Their excitement and accomplishment was recognized by everyone in the room. The positive emotion they radiated was infectious.

It had taken much trial and error before developing a good structure for our safety meetings that were effective and encouraged employee engagement.

It does not matter if you are having toolbox safety meetings that are only five minutes daily, or hour long safety meetings once per month. Safety meetings are a powerful activity for reducing accidents and promoting all aspects of safety.

I’ve conducted over 500 safety team meetings during my time as the safety officer for Philips. These meetings became instrumental in influencing behaviors that promote safety. Without them I don’t believe we could have turned safety around the way we had.

Safety Meetings Show Management Values Safety

Employees realize that management only invests time and money in what is important. Creating a work environment where safety is valued requires an investment.

At work and home we find time for those activities we value most. If family and friends are important to you, you make time for those relationships. If fitness is important, you make time to exercise. We recognize time is our most precious commodity, so we reserve it for what matters most to us.

If a company talks about safety, but spends little or no time on structured safety efforts, then employees may feel safety is not important. Safety will slide to the back of their mind, and their efforts will be focused on what they perceive management really holds as important.

The benefits safety meetings can provide include:

  • Engage and enlist the help of employees
  • Promote the importance of safety by showing a company’s willingness to invest time
  • Give employees the opportunity to contribute. Remember, they are the ones that know the unsafe conditions and behaviors
  • Provide opportunity to teach safety topics such as LOTO, PPE, hearing conservation, etc. in a short effective manner that employees will remember, as opposed to long training sessions that can be boring
  • Provide a level of awareness, teamwork and community
  • Meetings will not only speed up the establishing of a safety first culture, they are crucial to maintaining it. They provide consistency to the companies safety message


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The Components of an Effective Safety Meeting

Safety meetings can become sterile, boring and void of positive emotion. We are emotional beings and must be engaged on an emotional level. This means that the meetings must be designed to be positive, uplifting and engaging. Employees must feel comfortable and encouraged to contribute. A safety professional may be the person facilitating the meeting, but the employees must feel invested in that it is their meeting.

We want to know what to expect before we engage in any activity. Employees need to know the agenda, time, location and expectation. I discovered we could have a very effective safety meeting requiring only ten to twenty minutes, as long as it was well structured with an agenda promoted in advance.

Our typical agenda is as follows:

  • Some fun - I would often show a funny YouTube video at the start of the meeting or show funny safety pictures, etc.. I wanted to get employees to loosen up, relax and engage. When we started meetings without doing this, people were less engaged and did not contribute as much. Laughter lowers emotional walls and allows everyone to relax
  • Give our current safety stats and goals – If you remove the scoreboard from a basketball game, it is no longer a game, it is just practice. Employees need to know safety goals and where they are in respect to them. They need a sense of urgency
  • Review any accidents or near misses that occurred since the last meeting - We never discussed the names of who was hurt, but discussed the events that occurred and walked through the factors that lead to the accident. Often, it was here that the best ideas to prevent a reoccurrence were identified by employees. There is also a strong emotional element here as each accident represents a coworker that got hurt, which means to an employee that they could be next
  • Best practice sharing – We gave employees (only one or two per meeting) the chance to present on safety projects and concerns. This became popular as employees enjoyed sharing safety wins
  • Training or the presenting on one health topic and one safety topic – We covered one health topic each meeting, such as getting enough sleep, weight loss, etc.. We found that we could perform needed safety training in meetings and employees got more out of it verses a long day of training. If more time was needed to cover a topic, we let everyone know weeks in advance that the meeting would run longer.

The agenda that I just outlined served us for years. My suggestion is to set an agenda that has no more than four to six items. The facilitator needs to keep it flowing and on topic. No rabbit chasing. This requires finesse and a light heart. We tend to give respect when we get respect, so be polite when squelching side discussions and negative behavior.

All for One and One for All

A friend was telling me about an accident involving a coworker at the restaurant he worked at. A meat grinder appliance had a defective guard and his hand got caught in it. The employee received many stitches and was off work for a few weeks.

I asked if they knew the guard was not working properly. He said yes and everyone just got used to it. I then asked if they spoke much about safety or had any type of safety meetings. He told me safety is discussed when you’re hired and when training for a new position, and other than that, they had no formal safety meetings.

If the restaurant had any formal safety meetings, such as five to ten minutes even once per week, employees would have had an avenue to raise concerns about issues, such as a faulty guard. I realize regular safety inspections would have caught that as well, in fact, the two support each other. As safety inspections are done, the results should be reported in the safety meetings.

Safety Requires Attention, Consistency and Time

For safety to be important, it requires consistent attention over time. This is human nature. When no effort or time is given to a particular issue or topic, it slides out of our thoughts and attention.

Attention and consistency is more important than the amount of time given. You do not need to have long meetings, in fact, most of us do not want long meetings. I have seen departments promote safety quite effectively with five minute meetings near tool boxes at the start of each shift. It is more important that you have a consistent structure and give employees a voice. Even five minutes is enough time for a concern to be voiced.

The Safety Board

A safety board is a great companion tool that supports and enhances your safety initiatives. This is a safety bulletin board easily accessible to all used for posting safety information.

The contents of the safety board would include: the safety meeting schedule or calendar, meeting agenda, posted minutes of past meetings, safety stats and goals, etc..

You can also use it to promote any health and safety topics important to you and your employees.

Any Business Can Benefit From Safety Meetings

I was shopping at our local Walmart when I heard this announcement over their loud speakers, “Our safety meeting will begin at 4 pm. This is just a reminder.” I was surprised and impressed to hear that this retail giant had safety meetings. Does your business?

I challenge you to find a schedule that works for your business environment. I promise it will put energy behind your safety initiative as it provides consistent safety dialog with employees.

With a structured, yet relaxed tone that encourages employee engagement, you can also improve a sense of community and strengthen relationship between management and employees. This is time well spent.

We invest time in what we value, show your employees their safety is worth time and attention. Show you value them.


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