Toolbox Talks

Safety on the job site is paramount to our team at SEH Excavating Contractors. It is our responsibility to our team to ensure that they get home safe to their friends and family every day. In 2016, 5,190 workers were killed on the job in the United States – over 14 deaths every day. Of those deaths, 991 were in the construction industry. It’s our goal that SEH is never included in that list.

There are a number of ways we work towards making that goal. Having the most up-to-date safety equipment is one way, as well as being cognizant of site issues and always preparing for the worst. One of the most important ways that we address safety – and a method that will work great for any workplace – is toolbox talks.

What Are Toolbox Talks?

Unlike all-hands formal safety meetings often conducted at the shop, Toolbox Talks are informal safety meetings, often conducted at the job site, that address safety topics on specific jobs. They don’t need materials or any sort of display, just the full attention of your team. They only take up a little time during the day, meaning you can easily conduct these talks on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis without causing delays on the job.

Implementing Toolbox Talks

There are a number of resources available for Toolbox Talk topics and tips. Our friends up north have put together a number of talks you can draw from, and that you can tailor to your individual site. These talks are particularly important to us here at SEH Excavating, as they stem from the Asphalt Technical Advisory Committee. As one of the leading asphalt contractors in the Baltimore area, these apply to our everyday work. The American Supply Association also has some ideas, as well as pointers for developing your own talks.

The key to implementing these talks is to pick ones that are important for your site, and don’t waste time on those that are not. For instance, if your company and job site does not utilize conveyor belts, you really do not need to have a talk on safety around conveyors. There are plenty of subjects that need to be covered on every site though, such as:

  • Foot Protection
  • Hand Safety
  • Hearing Protection
  • Fire Prevention
  • Eye Injuries and Protection
  • Calculating the Heat Index and Dealing with Summer Heat
  • Cold-Weather Safety and Avoiding Frostbite and Hypothermia
  • Dealing with Contamination
  • Portable Fire Extinguisher Types and Use
  • Preventing Trips, Slips, and Falls
  • Safe Cell Phone Usage and Best Practices
  • Attitudes and Behaviors that Contribute to Accidents

Plenty of other topics can be addressed depending on the individuals and their responsibilities. For workers that are responsible for driving work vehicles to and from the sites, consider a line of talks that includes driving in winter weather, defensive driving, and if you have trailers that are used, a talk on trailer safety. For heavy machinery operators and maintenance personnel, subjects such as fueling safety and heavy equipment loading and unloading safety would be worthwhile. Every action on a site or around the shop can have toolbox talks linked to it.

Making Toolbox Talks Effective

  • Present, Don’t Read: It’s okay to have a hand-out for your crew or notes to refer to, but make sure to review the material before hand and have it memorized for the most part. This will allow you to make eye contact with your audience, and make it so you are speaking to them instead of reading off of a piece of paper. Don’t be afraid to use props to indicate or demonstrate as well, many workers will appreciate seeing what you are talking about instead of just listening.
  • Be Succinct: There are plenty of studies regarding the attention span of learners and students, and there is a lot of disagreement just how long the common attention span is. It could be 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or much longer. The problem is, it varies from person to person – and you have a variety of workers. So make your talk as short and to-the-point as possible, if it seems like it could run longer than 10-15 minutes, work to reduce it.
  • Avoid Distraction: We know they’re called toolbox talks, but they don’t have to be done at a toolbox. Find a quiet, distraction-free area to ensure that attention is being paid to the talk, not to machinery or other conversations or actions going on around you. Make sure cell phones, radios, and other potential distractions are silenced.
  • Be a Storyteller: Raw statistics are boring. Your employees and co-workers will start to tune you out if you decide to rattle off statistics. Instead, use experiences and stories to convey points. People remember stories.
  • Consider Your Team: Your talks need to be clear to all your workers. Some of your crew may speak English as a second language, and not all words or phrases may be perfectly understood. Whether it is Spanish, French, German, Russian, or another language, work with them to get translations that allow you to drive home the point in a way they will understand clear as a bell.
  • Allow Questions and Discussions: Provide time at the end of the talk for workers to respond, and even encourage workers to share if they have had a close call or incident that relates to the subject you are discussing. Some of them may have additional knowledge or experience that can be added on top of your own.
  • Be Positive: The point of these talks is to be proactive, not reactive. Be positive and encourage safe behavior, instead of being negative and pointing out previous poor behavior regarding the safety point. Don’t focus on what has happened in the past, focus on what can be done to be safe from this point on.

The Goal of Toolbox Talks

The aim of Toolbox Talks is implanting safety into the heads of your employees. It’s about alerting them to dangers, providing them procedures and systems to mitigate risk, and helping them to make safety a natural part of their work. It’s about making safety their second nature. When you do this, you create an environment that is great for personal growth and company growth.

While our business is completing your project and doing it right the first time, our responsibility is keeping our team safe and doing that every time. We feel that attitude is one of the reasons our team members value working for us, and it is part of the reason that we are seen as a responsible, capable contractor. At SEH Excavating Contractors, safety is a valuable part of our culture, and we hope you make it part of yours.