A big message in a little time

Toolbox meetings, tailgate meetings, coffee break meetings, or whatever name is used, are short safety meetings and training programs intended to boost employee awareness of safety and its importance in the workplace. Two of the strongest tools in safety are “knowledge” and “awareness” and these meetings utilize both. These sessions are intended to periodically focus attention on important safety issues, frequently reminding employees why procedures and other safeguards are in place and why it is important to follow them.

Training alone is generally considered to be the least effective method of injury prevention. It is widely recognized that injury rates are reduced significantly when such training is used to enhance other hazard control methods, such as engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, as well as the use of personal protective equipment. The value of short safety meetings is achieved through increased hazard awareness and the promotion of safe work practices. Underlying messages to employees serve as reinforcement of an agency’s safety program, while promoting an overall safety culture.

By encouraging employees to discuss safety matters and make suggestions for improvement, a new avenue of communication between employees and management will develop. As a result, more effective means of addressing hazards may become evident.

Selecting a Topic

Take some time to pick the right subject matter. Do not just randomly choose a topic to meet a requirement for holding these meetings. This will show a lack of commitment and will reduce effectiveness. Topics should be relevant to the workplace for the process to achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating or reducing employee accidents and injuries. However, only choose one or two topics to discuss, avoiding broad subjects that may be hard to cover in the allotted time.

Have a discussion about accidents and near misses that have occurred within the agency, focusing mostly on those caused by hazards associated with the work the group performs. Do not mention names, but discuss what happened, what could have happened, and what could have been done to avoid being injured, as well as suggestions for prevention in the future. Other incidents in the news or industry statistics may also provide relevant material for discussion.

Unsafe acts or unsafe conditions observed in the workplace are an excellent source of material for toolbox talks. For example, if an employee was observed not using a ladder properly, then ladder safety would be a relevant topic. Hazards associated with the seasons also make suitable subjects for meetings when scheduled at the appropriate time of year.

Employees themselves are possibly the best source for potential topics. Solicit input from employees about any concerns they may have or what they would like to discuss or learn. Discuss any upcoming projects or new equipment, including associated hazards and what preventative measures will be necessary.

There are numerous sources of material for those who have difficulty selecting a topic or organizing a presentation. Subscription services, as well as government and free sites available over the internet, can often provide ideas for topics. For example, numerous topics and information are available at no cost on the Nonprofit Risk Management Center’s website, accessible at http://nonprofitrisk.org/ws-ps/wsp-ps.htm, titled “Workplace Safety Toolkit.”1 Although these are good places to start, it is important that the final product be tailored specifically to the workplace.

Choosing a Time and Location

Consistency is an important factor in the effectiveness of these short safety talks. Schedule the meetings for about the same time each week, two weeks, or month, whichever best suits the degree of hazards. For instance, weekly meetings may be necessary for construction or maintenance operations, where monthly meetings may be adequate in an administrative or office setting. By choosing a consistent day and time, employees will know when to expect the meetings and will view them as a normal and valuable part of their job.

Choose the best day and time for your particular situation. However, studies have shown that there are certain times that should be avoided. Often, the best times are at the beginning of the day or before lunch. It has been found that most people have trouble concentrating just after lunch and at the end of the workday. Monday mornings and Fridays are the least desirable training times as employees are more likely to be distracted and less able to focus on the topic at hand.

Limiting meeting length to less than fifteen minutes reduces the required planning time and should not appreciably disrupt the work day. There is a better chance that employees will remain interested if time is limited.

Hold the meetings in places with plenty of room for everyone, as free of distractions as possible. Everyone should be able to clearly see and hear the program. A jobsite or workplace that relates to the topic may improve the effectiveness of the training. A workshop, for example, may be the best place to hold a meeting about workshop safety.

Planning and Preparation

As with any program, it is important to set goals and objectives; what do you want employees to learn? For example, do they know where to find the material safety data sheets for a product they are using? Next, establish an action plan that includes what material will be covered and any demonstrations or exercises. Prepare a planning checklist that includes any tools, equipment, or materials that may need to be gathered. If the topic includes a process or procedure, break it down into clear and concise steps.2 Also, consider the material to be covered versus the time allowed. Since the length of meetings is limited, it may be necessary to carry discussion over to the next meeting. Also, employee understanding of the information is important. If some of the employees have a limited understanding of English, someone may need to act as interpreter.

After the schedule and location have been set, the topic chosen, and the materials prepared, the next step is the most critical: the meeting itself. Advice and tips for conducting an effective short safety meeting will be discussed in the next article in this series.

1 Nonprofit Risk Management Center. “Workplace Safety Tool Kit.” Retrieved June 1, 2007 from, http://nonprofitrisk.org/ws-ps/wsp-ps.htm

2 Industrial Training & Design Ltd. “Conducting Effective Toolbox Sessions”. Retrieved May 8, 2007 from, http://www.itd2.com/newsletter/Dec03/toolbox.htm


Builders Mutual Insurance Company (n.d.). Toolbox Safety Talks, Construction Site Safety Talks. Retrieved May 7, 2007 from, http://www.buildersmutual.com/cd/package.html

California department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (2/2006). Setting Up a Tailgate/Toolbox Safety Meeting. Retrieved May 8, 2007 from, http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/dosh_publications/setup.pdf

Emergency 911 Ring (n.d.). Tail Gate Safety Meeting Topics. Retrieved May 7, 2007 from, http://www.webworldinc.com/wes-con/safety2.html-ssi#author

Industrial Training & Design Ltd. (12/2003). Conducting Effective Toolbox Sessions. Retrieved May 8, 2007 from, http://www.itd2.com/newsletter/Dec03/toolbox.htm

Nonprofit Risk Management Center (n.d.). Workplace Safety Tool Kit. Retrieved June 1, 2007 from, http://nonprofitrisk.org/ws-ps/wsp-ps.htm

TAPCO Enterprises LLC (n.d.). Toolboxtopics.com, Toolbox Meeting Tips. Retrieved May 8, 2007 from, http://www.toolboxtopics.com/Contributed/Toolbox%20Meeting%20Tips.htm

Texas Department of Insurance, Workers’ Compensation Division (1/2007). Training and the New Safety Supervisor. Retrieved May 8, 2007 from, http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/wc/information/videoresources/documents/t5trainnew.pdf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *