Toolbox talks are a quick and easy way of informing and training workers on occupational safety and health requirements. Toolbox talks cover a wide range of topics from general hazard awareness to behavioural-based safety. Thus, toolbox talks seek to create a workplace environment conducive to health and safety by identifying problems or highlighting specific safety concerns/risks; thereby promoting a culture of safety within the organization.

What is a Toolbox Talk?

A toolbox talk is a meeting session with workers of a specific department within an organization, where informal group discussions occur. These discussions focus on a particular safety issue that may be present in the work environment. This provides information to workers, which then allows them to voice their concerns regarding hazards/controls, incidents/accidents, work processes and company procedures. Toolbox talks do not replace formal safety training.

Why are Toolbox Talks important?

According to the Centre for Protection for Workers’ Rights, toolbox talks are a crucial part of any company’s safety management system because they:

  • Allow both employers and their workers to explore the risks of specific health and safety issues, as well as think about ways to deal with them
  • Encourage worker engagement
  • Help support a planned series of site observations
  • Encourage health and safety to become everyone’s responsibility

Who is responsible for conducting Toolbox Talks?

Although anyone can conduct a toolbox talk, it is recommended that individuals who are experts on the topic give the talk.

How long and often should Toolbox Talks be conducted?

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends that the duration of a toolbox talk be approximately 15 minutes, and that the talks be conducted on a monthly basis.

Planning the Toolbox Talk

The following are 6 elements to consider when planning an effective Toolbox Talk.

1. The Agenda

Knowing your topic and planning your agenda a few days before the meeting is highly recommend. It will ensure that you are well prepared and are able lead a discussion afterwards. Additionally, when planning your agenda, coordinate hand-out literature or any other material that you intend to use during the session, including the use of actual tools or equipment to get your points across.

2. The Topic

When selecting a topic, be sure to choose a relevant topic. That is, stick to topics about safety problems you are currently encountering at your workplace, or that you anticipate in upcoming job tasks. Furthermore, before selecting a topic it is also advisable to review recent injuries, safety violations and upcoming work schedules.

3. The Format

Always start the toolbox talk out on a positive note by promoting teamwork and how toolbox talks provide valuable information. This should give everyone the feeling that toolbox talks are an opportunity to get together and exchange ideas. There are many different approaches that can be used to give toolbox talks. For instance, toolbox talks may be:

  • Interactive - using a question and answer format
  • Problem posing - posing safety problems or concerns and asking for input or solutions
  • Storytelling - telling a story has a much bigger impact because it makes the problem a lot more real for people and helps them understand the seriousness of the hazard
  • Demonstrations or hands-on - workers like to see things for themselves or try things out
  • Given by peers - other workers will pay more attention because people they respect and trust who will not talk down to will be delivering the talk
  • Hand-outs - hand-outs summarize and reiterate the main points and include illustrations; good hand-out is short, written in simple, clear language
  • Online delivery - When delivering talks online, consider changing between different mediums (such as, text, audio, test questions, videos, images and diagrams) to keep your worker’s attentions, as well as to improve information retention

4. Giving the Toolbox Talk

When giving the Toolbox Talk, keep it informal. If you are using written toolbox talks or other resources, try to give the presentation in your own words.

  • Begin by welcoming your workers
  • Limit the length of your presentation—15 minutes is sufficient, allowing for another 15 minute period for questions and answers afterwards; the entire session should not last more than a half-hour
  • Invite your workers to participate, for example, when asking questions use open-ended questions instead of questions that require a yes/no answer
  • Use visual examples, such as the actual equipment to illustrate your points
  • Make the talk a hands-on session, for example, ask workers name hazards and what can be done to prevent or eliminate them
  • Listen to your employees and find out if further training is needed
  • Do a wrap-up to reinforce and highlight important points
  • Thank your workers for their interest and enthusiasm
  • Ask the participants to print and sign their names on the form at the end of the talk as this will help track who has received the training

5. The Place and Time

Hold the meeting at your workplace first thing in the morning or immediately after lunch when the workday will least be interrupted and the work area is relatively quiet. Toolbox meetings should be held at least once a month to reinforce your organisation’s commitment to safety.

6. The Follow-up

This is completed after the talk. If follow-up information is needed, record the necessary details in a table. This will serve as a reminder that further actions are required.

Suggested Toolbox Talk Topics

Toolbox Talks may be focused on:

  • Confined Spaces
  • Housekeeping
  • Lock out/Tag out
  • Forklift Safety
  • Fire Safety
  • Manual Handling
  • Workplace Stress
  • Hand and Portable Power Tools Safety
  • Accident Reporting and Investigation
  • Emergency Procedures

Toolbox Talks send a big message in little time!

One of the best ways to prevent workplace accidents, injuries and illnesses is through effective communication. Knowledge and Awareness are two of the strongest tools in safety—and Toolbox Talks utilize both. Thus, workplace safety issues are best communicated to workers via Toolbox Talks. These sessions are intended to periodically focus attention on important safety issues, so that workers can be frequently reminded of why procedures and other safeguards exist at their workplace and hence, why it is important to follow them.