Workplace Solutions

Getting the message through with toolbox talks

How can safety managers use toolbox talks to support safety training and shift supervisors?

construction worker

Photo: Susan Chiang/iStockphoto

Responding is Matthew Howard, director of product development, Pro Toolbox Talks, Sudbury, Ontario.

Good safety training sessions provide workers with all the information they need to avoid injury. However, there’s no guarantee workers will retain the information months later. In some cases, up to 70 percent of training is forgotten within a week. Thus, safety managers should take steps to increase the long-term retention of safety lessons.

Repetition is an effective way to combat memory failure, as long as it’s not a straight regurgitation of classroom training. Key teaching points must be applied in various ways and in unique workplace contexts. They also should be discussed regularly with workers.

One of the best ways to achieve these goals is with toolbox talks. Effective toolbox talks are conversations between workers and supervisors that can be used to revisit concepts and best practices introduced during safety training.

Take for instance workers who have received forklift training recently. A few days afterward, host a toolbox talk that highlights the biggest challenges of operating a forklift safely. A week later, ask forklift drivers about the steps they should take to watch for pedestrians. You also could initiate a discussion on safe driving practices or what workplace hazards they would tell a new forklift operator to look for.

Then, a month or so after the original safety training, turn a toolbox talk into a quiz that asks workers about the major takeaways from the training. If it’s clear that some elements have been forgotten, these issues can be revisited in refresher courses or another toolbox talk. However, the discussion that results from the quiz often is enough to remind workers about important safety requirements.

The aim of these toolbox talks is to get workers thinking and talking. This is necessary because some people learn well in classroom settings while others need to engage directly with ideas to remember them – and safety talks provide an opportunity for employees to do exactly that.

Toolbox talks also can help supervisors get a better handle on the safety of their crew, especially if they don’t have a strong line of communication with workers, or if they’re new to the job and haven’t yet developed a rapport with their subordinates. In these situations, safety managers can use toolbox talks to help supervisors establish more consistent safety communication with workers.

First, safety managers should provide outlines or full scripts for toolbox talks, along with a delivery schedule. The goal is to remove as much of the planning and guesswork as possible. This will allow supervisors to know what they’ll be talking about and when they’ll be doing it.

Second, managers should evaluate the supervisor’s interpersonal skills. Some people become supervisors because of their work skills, not their ability to manage others. If this is the case, then consider whether coaching on the finer points of talking to workers about safety is necessary. A good place to start is to help supervisors learn to deliver a good toolbox talk, because many of the skills required to run a toolbox talk – speaking ability, reading the audience, getting workers engaged – are transferrable to other contexts and will boost supervisors’ overall competence.

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