Toolbox talks are deeply engrained in the construction world’s way of life. For those outside the industry, however, they’re a fairly foreign concept. The truth is, these quick-hitting, single-topic meetups provide a great opportunity to ensure team members are on the same page, have the details they need for a given project and that they’re working toward a common goal. As such, they’re something we think other industries should incorporate into their regular practices.
Curious to learn more about what makes for an effective toolbox talk — and how your team can put your own twist on it? You’ve come to the right place. Read on for insight from our risk management experts.
A Quick Overview of the Construction Industry Staple
Toolbox talks, as we mentioned above, are short meetings focused on just one or two topics, traditionally highlighting safety concerns and other issues crew members need to know in order to carry out their work successfully. They often occur on a weekly or monthly basis and take place at the very start of a shift, when it’s easiest to gather everyone together. (And before folks are tired out by the day’s tasks!) These meetups usually provide the chance for attendees to ask questions, voice concerns and generally ensure they have the information they need for whatever projects lie ahead.
Incorporating the Concept of Toolbox Talks into Your Company’s Operations
Even if your day-to-day work has you in an office setting, as opposed to busy construction sites, toolbox talks at the start of a new project simply make sense. Why? Because, when everyone has a firm grasp on the work to come, who’s slated to do what — and what the overarching goal will be — it keeps work running more smoothly. There are fewer questions along the way. There’s less backtracking to make up for work that didn’t get completed as it should have. There’s a quicker overall timetable. (And who doesn’t appreciate that?) Here are a few ways to keep such talks on track:
- Select a Topic that Matters: The whole goal is to hone in on a particular project or issue that affects the team as a whole, and to find ways to improve operations moving forward. In other words, avoid generalities. Is there a big presentation coming up that a few key players are involved in? That’s perfect toolbox talk fodder. Have you noticed unsafe practices in the workplace? This is an ideal way to address them. Think through the issues affecting your team in the near future and go from there.
- Set a Time Limit and Stick to it: It’s easy to get so swept up in speaking with fellow team members that you lose all track of time. Doing so, however, can throw the whole day off schedule. Lay out a hard stop for your toolbox talk — perhaps 20 or 30 minutes — and when time is up, it’s up. There’s a chance you won’t get to each discussion point planned, but you can follow the meeting up with an email. And after a couple of attempts, your team will likely get the hang of understanding the best way to tackle such talks.
- Don’t Stray Off Topic: Because toolbox talks take place among team members who likely work on a range of projects together — and who ideally enjoy one another’s company — conversation has a tendency to wander off track. Find a friendly, yet firm, way to steer talks back. Whether it’s a quick ding of a bell or a “That’s probably something we can discuss outside this meeting,” those small reminders really help keep things on target.
- Let Others Weigh in: A collaborative environment is the best kind of environment — and that applies to toolbox talks, too. Provide team members the opportunity to suggest topics for future meetings, and even take turns regarding who does the presenting. Of course, if anyone has issues they feel uncomfortable bringing up in a group setting, provide a space where they can submit information freely and, if desired, anonymously.
Our friends in construction have a good thing in the toolbox talk. If you’re interested in incorporating this tool of the trade into your company’s operations, our Toolbox Talks Tip Sheet offers other great insight! Of course, our Risk Management Center is a wealth of wonderful resources, too. You’re always welcome to contact BCH with any questions you might have, as well. Our team is glad to help!