Making Toolbox Talks Effective Safety Training

Toolbox Talks

Industries such as construction and mining use toolbox talks to improve safety. In these industry sectors, there are generally a large number of contractors or casual workers. Many contractors are small businesses and float between jobs and sites. Typically, small businesses have limited resources to apply to workplace safety processes and training.

Regular toolbox talks are an opportunity to bring together the team of workers to discuss safety requirements. Familiarisation of site safety is particularly crucial for less-experienced workers. When delivering safety toolbox talks, it is vital to consider the training delivery because it has a direct influence on its effectiveness.

For this article, we review research that compared the impact of delivering toolbox talks with and without questions and answers from the group. The study tested changes in the levels of safety knowledge and workplace safety climate. The results show that safety knowledge retention increases when we include narratives, discussion and questions in toolbox talks. For less-experienced workers, they are particularly impactful. However, the results also show that there is no significant change in workplace safety climate when we train using toolbox talks.

What are safety toolbox talks?

Toolbox talks are usually a brief update of the safety topic of the day, of any changes to site conditions and any safety concerns. Generally, we hold toolbox talks on-site and at the beginning of each working week. However, some workplaces use toolbox talks at the beginning of every shift.

Often, toolbox talks are information sessions with little or no interaction by the participants. Managers question their usefulness, particularly around their dry ‘lecture-style’ delivery methods. Others argue a need to include training that requires a level of interaction. Some think that we should tailor toolbox talks around specific safety concerns and encourage discussion. Still others question:

  • Is it beneficial to use images in toolbox talks to provide examples of safety concerns?
  • Is the short burst training delivery more likely to embed safety knowledge?
  • How likely is that workers will retain the knowledge?
  • Will interactive safety toolbox talks change behaviour and encourage safer practice?

Why does this matter?

Attention wanes, when training is presented using traditional classroom delivery methods, i.e. chalk and talk. If we use PowerPoint presentations, the worker’s attention begins to drop off as early as the seven-minute mark. When there is little or no interaction, and we ‘talk’ at the group, it is tough to engage workers. If the content is repetitive or draws on generic examples, we lose relevance. The result is minimal knowledge retention and safety training that holds little value. All of this holds when we deliver toolbox talks.

Toolbox talks use MicroLearning

MicroLearning is enjoying rapid growth and becoming a critical part of organisational training. Due to the necessity of work-based, lifelong, and personal learning, this method is a new way of training.

“MicroLearning: it’s learning in tiny chunks and short bursts of time”.

MicroLearning can be a beneficial method to train key safety concepts in a short time. There is considerable research that shows that short bursts of training can facilitate knowledge retention. When we teach using this method, we provide only the most critical information. When we combine this with technology, we achieve flexibility and focussed training.

Interestingly, safety toolbox talks use a MicroLearning methodology. It is here that the focus is on the critical issue of the day or week. We can deliver essential concepts quickly and with a targeted message. This method also helps employees with language and literacy problems.

Details of the study on using narratives in toolbox talks

For this study, toolbox talks were developed around common construction hazards:

  1. Falls from roofs, ladders, heavy mobile plant and through holes,
  2. Unsafe power tool use,
  3. Electrocution,
  4. Crushing Hazards, and
  5. Working around mobile plant.

The study used two methods of delivering a toolbox talk. The first method contained a brief discussion of the hazard, followed by a list of appropriate safety measures with images of relevant safety equipment. The second method consisted of the same training content but also included a short discussion narrative with questions and answers. This version asked the following two questions:

a). Whether the participant had ever suffered such an accident and its consequences, and

b). How the participant could help to prevent such an accident on their current worksite.

The toolbox talks were delivered once a week for eight weeks at the start of the shift at the beginning of the workweek. One hundred and four workers were trained using the first method, and 100 using the second method.

What did the results of the study show?

An overall result of this study shows that using toolbox talks helps to improve safety knowledge. However, when we include narratives, and questions and answers, there is a significant improvement in the retained of safety knowledge.

Diving further into the results, we see that there were varying levels of improvement for the workers involved in the toolbox talks that included the narratives, and questions and answers.

For workers who had over 11 years of experience in the industry, there was only a limited improvement in their safety knowledge. However, for workers with less than five years of experience, there was a significant improvement in their safety knowledge. So it would appear that less-experienced workers had the most significant benefit.

One explanation for the improved safety knowledge could be something as simple as the increased level of engagement. Tap Into Safety has argued the need to make safety training delivery engaging and interactive. To learn more about our interactive hazard perception and safety training, please try a FREE demo.

Using the question and answer format adds to a worker’s overall knowledge of the subject. Questioning encourages workers to think about the topic in more depth. In doing so, they are more likely to shift their attitudes about workplace safety. Using narratives, and a question and answer method in toolbox talks makes the training more engaging. The discussion questions provide an opportunity for workers to process the information in their work context.

To conclude

Toolbox talks aim to improve safe behaviour, and this study showed that safety knowledge increases when workers attend toolbox talks. However, when we include narratives, discussion and questions, the safety knowledge improvements are more significant. One reason is a higher level of engagement can be achieved compared to passive lecture-style training. Another is the opportunity to think about a topic in more depth. For less-experienced workers, the increase in their safety knowledge is significant. Improving safety knowledge is critical because statistics show that less-experienced workers are more likely to be injured at work.

Toolbox talks that include narratives, and questions and answers are an excellent first step to deliver relevant safety knowledge, especially to less-experienced workers.

The study noted that there wasn’t a significant impact on safety climate as a result of the toolbox talks. However, organisations that focus on safety have been shown to achieve improvements over the long term. The study was conducted over eight weeks and as such, long-term improvements could not be measured. Regardless, having engaging toolbox talks that encourage interaction and questioning is a far better experience for workers.

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