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Before we start looking at what makes for effective toolbox talks, we’ll share a quick definition:

“A toolbox talk is an informal group discussion that focuses on a particular safety issue” (Harvard University)

As with all safety matters, there’s no point in having toolbox talks just for the sake of it.

Effective toolbox talks can save lives and are an important topic in human factors. Here are five fundamentals every toolbox talk should have.

Brevity

Safety in working environments such as oil rigs and hospitals is of paramount importance. However, that shouldn’t equate to toolbox talks taking hours to deliver. It’s advisable to hold smaller talks more regularly rather than overload people with information over a period of hours in just one session.

An effective toolbox talk should be around 10-15 minutes long and an interactive meeting between the supervisor and staff. While the detail of the talk is important, it’s also vital that everyone has their chance to air their views and feel like they’re being listened to.

Authority

While toolbox talks are meant to be informal, it’s critically important they’re conducted by someone in a position of authority. Occasional toolbox talks just held between staff doing the job could bypass a number of safety concerns as well as not being properly recorded or reported.

When toolbox talks are held regularly by a supervisor, it gives staff the chance to air their concerns and ideas and ensures these are reported further up the chain to management if necessary.

Relevance

Toolbox talks aren’t the place for general safety presentations. Toolbox talks should be held in the working environment rather than a formal training area and focus on specific tasks or procedures relevant to staff.

The language used should be what the staff understand and not ‘management speak’ that leaves any room for confusion or misunderstandings. For example, talking about safety-inspired changes to a particular procedure may fall on deaf ears if the team members actually already perform it in a different way from the official guidelines.

Clarity

At the start of a toolbox talk, it should be made clear what the topic is going to be. If these briefings are allowed to grow arms and legs, the result could be a confusing and lengthy meeting. When people aren’t engaged in toolbox talks, the safety of everyone in that environment can be put at risk.

Typically each toolbox talk will cover just one safety topic for discussion to keep things clear and simple for everyone. The way the information is delivered by the supervisor is another important consideration and any one to one discussions that need to take place should be done so away from the group.

Accountability

Every toolbox talk should be recorded by the supervisor or manager who’s given the talk. It’s important to have a clear and up-to-date record of what discussions have taken place in terms of operational safety. If no records are kept, different accounts of what was discussed could emerge in the event of an incident.

It’s also important to keep track of which staff were present at each toolbox talk, particularly in a shift working environment such as an oil rig. It only takes one member of a crew to miss out on an important safety briefing for potential safety issues to arise.

Summary

Toolbox talks play an important role in human factors in a number of industry sectors.

Remember BARCA - Brevity, Authority, Relevance, Clarity and Accountability to ensure your toolbox talks are effective and help keep everyone safe in the workplace.

Jamie Graham

Guest Author