Safety talks (also known as toolbox talks, tailgate meetings, or pre-job talks) are those informal conversations or meetings we have related to a specific job or safety practice. They typically happen at the beginning of a shift and are meant to reinforce the safety tone about the work at hand.
Safety talks can be a challenge. It is hard to drive engagement in safety talks before a shift starts. Most of us are thinking about the work ahead, or what we're going to have for dinner once we go home. Part of the issue is not making a direct connection between our safety talks and the work at hand. If the safety talk seems repetitive or not relevant, we are more likely to begin to tune out.
Two issues we face with safety talks are 1) driving employee engagement and 2) coming up with new & relevant topics to discuss.
Here are some ideas below to address these issues:
1) Driving Engagement in Safety Talks
The best way to drive engagement is to increase ownership. The more we feel involved, the more likely we are to participate. So to drive participation up, involve employees in the selection of safety topics as much as possible. Actively seek out employee opinions and thoughts on safety matters. What has the workforce been dealing with lately? Maybe there is a safety concern to address, or a rule/policy that is unclear. Employees probably have some ideas on what could be improved. They are the experts at their own work and have the most knowledge of what is going on. Even getting your workforce to imagine what could become a safety hazard, and possible outcomes related to the hazard is helpful to build "safety imagination". Worried that no one will speak up or offer suggestions? A suggestion box for topics can be used if employees are hesitant at first. Next, get employees to take turns helping you lead the safety talks. It can be one individual or small groups who lead.
An important factor in asking for this level of engagement is providing some positive feedback. Having the opportunity to speak up is one piece, but the confidence to do so is another. When employees do step up and provide topic suggestions or offer to lead the talk, make sure to provide positive reinforcement and respect their ideas. It doesn't matter what the idea is, it is more so about getting the communication "ball" rolling, employees need to see a point in offering their input. If they do not see any use in voicing their opinion, it won't happen. Even just a simple "thank you" can be motivating. This will encourage further participation knowing their ideas are being considered and used. It also alleviates the supervisors from having to come up with new topics all the time.
2) Coming Up With Relevant & New Safety Topics
No one wants to hear the same monthly themes recycled over and over. There are only so many times someone can listen to a talk about "slips, trips & falls" (not to say that it's not important!) before they tune it out. Aside from asking for relevant topics from employees themselves, give some thought to what is relevant in your workplace environment right now. Are there near misses occurring? Do people have a common understanding of what a near miss is? Oftentimes, we have different ideas of what constitutes a near miss. If your organization does not collect near miss information, think about some potential safety hazards that exist. Think back to things that have already happened in the organization that could be considered a near miss. What can we learn from it that still applies today?
Based on their knowledge of the workplace, you can ask employees where they think the next near miss may potentially occur. Where do they think the next incident may occur? Why? This is a great conversation topic. What are the most risky tasks or activities? Why are they so risky, what are we currently doing about it, and what could we be doing differently? Getting employees to be mindful or situationally aware of their surroundings is ALWAYS a relevant safety topic. You can use yourself as example, try to think of a time where you prevented harm to yourself or a fellow team member. Describe how you think the next near miss could happen, how we could prevent this from occurring and how to make the hazard more visible.
Be proactive about changes that are occurring and use safety talks as an opportunity to discuss them. Discussing an impending safety policy change can be helpful. When the organization is about to take on new work, or when it is about to begin it's busy season, discuss how this change will affect safety and what employees should expect. It gives employees a change to think ahead and ask questions.
Here are some safety talk ideas:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more safety talk ideas or if you need help figuring out how to work a specific topic into a safety talk.