7 Tips for Delivering Toolbox Talks That Stick

By Safeopedia Staff
Last updated: February 20, 2024
Key Takeaways

To really drive safety, your toolbox talks should be informative, well-organized, and highly engaging.

Staff member in hard hat leading a meeting in an industrial setting.
Source: FoToArtist 1 (Envato Elements)

Workers don’t ignore safety rules and policies on purpose. But it does sometimes slip their mind.


They get distracted while multitasking and overlook a step in the safe work procedure.

They rush through a quick task and only realize after the fact that they didn’t put on their safety glasses first.


Their job involves using a ladder only once or twice a year, so they forget the three-point rule.

It’s completely understandable, but it also puts them and others at risk. And a lot of it could be avoided by starting each shift with a toolbox talk.

Toolbox talks are brief informal meetings that usually take place at the start of a shift. They’re focused on a specific safety topic, usually a hazard found on the jobsite.

It’s a way to keep safety top of mind. A good toolbox talk will send everyone to work with more awareness of the risks around them and what they should do to mitigate them.

But it only works if the information actually sticks. When the talk is poorly delivered and fails to keep the employees engaged, that critical safety info is more likely to go in one ear and out the other.


If you’re taking the time to gather everyone for a safety huddle at the start of the workday, make sure they get the most out of it. Here are a few tips that will help you do that.

Don’t Let the Meeting Drag

Toolbox talks should be brief.

How brief will depend on the topic. You might be able to breeze through a discussion about housekeeping in four or five minutes. If you’re going over gas detection before entering a confined space, you might need ten.

But no matter the topic, you should never spend more time than you need.

When your toolbox talk goes on longer than it should, that’s when you start to lose everyone. Workers will start daydreaming or counting the seconds before they can finally walk away and get to work.

If you only need five minutes to get through the main points and check in with everyone, that’s all you need. Don’t drag it out just because you set aside ten minutes for the meeting.

Make It Interactive

It’s a lot harder to zone out during a meeting when you’re part of the conversation.

So, make sure the people attending the toolbox talk are also participating in it.

The easiest way to do that is by asking questions. Instead of lecturing about a hazard, ask quick and easy questions along the way, like:

“Who can tell me the first step before turning on the hydraulic press?”

“If you get something in your eye, how long should you flush it out at the emergency eyewash station?”

“When you see this symbol on a chemical container, what does it mean?”

The point isn’t really to drill everyone on safety facts or give them a pop quiz about safe working procedure. It’s mostly about keeping them alert and getting a back-and-forth going.

You should also open up the floor for a quick discussion at the end of the meeting. If anyone has any questions or comments about something that was brought up in the talk, it should be addressed then and there. No one should walk away unsure of how to keep themselves and others safe.

Getting employees involved and engaged also improves retention. And retention is precisely what you want when you’re sharing important safety info.

Keep It Relevant

After a week of giving toolbox talks, you’ll wonder if you’ll ever get to the bottom of your laundry list of topics.

By the third month, you’ll be struggling to come up with enough ideas to keep the daily meetings going.

When you start grasping at straws, you’ll be tempted to hold meetings on topics that are only semi-relevant to the workers joining you for the morning huddle.

That’s something you need to avoid. The less relevant the subject matter, the less likely they are to stay tuned in and focused on what you’re saying.

Stick to topics like:

  • Hazards the workers will be facing
  • A refresher on some aspect of the safe work procedure
  • Proper PPE usage (e.g. how to make sure your respirator is properly fitted)
  • Emergency response procedures (e.g. first steps if someone gets hurt, how to use the AED, the location of the first aid kits)
  • Changes to the work environment (e.g. high heat, icy conditions, new equipment)

Stay Focused

No safety issue stands completely on its own. Every single element of workplace safety is connected to other aspects of workplace safety.

As a safety professional, you’re probably used to linking all those ideas together. And that might creep into your toolbox talks:

That’s something you need to avoid. The less focused your toolbox talk, the less the employees will be able to focus on the main points you’re trying to drive home.

It’s a bit counterintuitive, but the more safety ideas you introduce into your toolbox talk, the less effective it will be at improving safety. So, make sure you stick to a single topic each time. You can earmark related issues and save them for upcoming meetings, but each individual talk should be simple and straightforward.


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Plan Ahead

Most toolbox talks deal with fairly basic safety topics.

You won’t have to walk employees through the process of calculating the fall arrest distance for their lanyards and harnesses. You probably don’t need to give them a rundown of permissible exposure limits. They don’t need to know the arc rating of their FR clothing – just that they need to wear it.

Instead, your focus will be on the Safety 101 subjects you know like the back of your hand.

That might convince you that you could just wing it. And sure, maybe you could. But you’ll still benefit from a bit of planning.

At the very least, you should write down the main points you want to hit. Not a script, but a short list to make sure you’re not skipping over any important details.

It’s a good idea to have a structure for your talk as well. Even though it’s short, there should be a logical progression to the information you’re presenting.

Planning ahead and having an outline ready will also help you head the meeting with more confidence. You’ll be less likely to stumble over your words, double back to points you missed, and have a weak delivery – all of which is going to make the meeting far more engaging.

Go Where the Hazards Are

One nice thing about toolbox talks is that they’re mobile.

You don’t have to gather in a conference room or at the punch clock – you can hold the meetings anywhere you want. So, instead of having them at the same spot every day, pick locations that are relevant to the topic.

If your toolbox talk is about power tool safety, do it at a workstation where you can handle the tools and point to anything you’re discussing.

If you want to cover forklift and pedestrian traffic zones, do it in the warehouse so everyone can see exactly where they’re supposed to walk – and where they should avoid stepping foot.

If you’re giving a quick refresher on inspecting a safety harness before going at heights, you don’t have to climb up ten feet to do it. But you should have a harness with you to demonstrate the process.

Being in the right environment or having the equipment handy will make it much easier to demonstrate safe work procedures. It also adds a visual element that will help keep everyone’s attention.

Don’t Weigh Down Your Main Point

You know a lot about safety, so it can be tempting to add a whole whack of information to support the points in your toolbox talk.

There are statistics you can throw around. Two or three standards you could quote form. Maybe you remember the day the regulations were updated and you can rattle off the entire timeline of those changes.

That information might be fascinating. It might be essential for a safety professional to know. But it probably doesn’t belong in your toolbox talk.

The aim of your talk is to provide clear and actionable information. It’s to remind the workers of the exact risks around them and the precise steps to take to avoid them. Weighing down those key points with extra details will distract from the main takeaway you want the workers to carry with them.

Statistics can occasionally help with that. For instance, knowing that about 1 in 10 fatal falls takes place at heights between 6 and 10 feet can be what convinces a worker to take their fall protection seriously (even in locations that don’t seem that high).

Stories can help illustrate the importance of your safety measures, too.

But in general, less is more. Keep your message simple and focused.

Make Safety Top of Mind – And Keep It There

We all wish workers would prioritize their safety above everything else. But we also know that’s not entirely realistic.

They might get in the zone and care a bit more about doing the job fast than doing it right.

If they’re dealing with too many distractions, they can end up doing something careless.

And after doing the same tasks day in and day out, many workers start getting a bit loose with the official procedures.

That’s why toolbox talks matter. It’s a way to make safety a higher priority. It drives awareness and helps workers be more mindful about their safety.

A toolbox talk will put safety top of mind. But a good one will keep it there. It’s going to stick with the workers, even hours after they’ve dispersed to their workstations.

Don’t just give a toolbox talk so you can cross that item off your to-do list. Give one that’s informative and engaging. That way, the employees will start thinking about their safety almost as often as you do.

Ready to learn more? Check out our free webinar on Supervisor Involvement as a Leading Indicator of Safety Performance!

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Written by Safeopedia Staff

Safeopedia Staff

At Safeopedia, we think safety professionals are unsung superheroes in many workplaces. We aim to support and celebrate these professionals and the work they do by providing easy access to occupational health and safety information, and by reinforcing safe work practices.

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