Ideas, Examples, & Tips
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 2.4 million employees were treated in emergency departments for work-related injuries in 2019. Such visits cost employers work hours. Even more important, however, is the physical cost work-related injuries have on employees. Educating employees about safety is beneficial to employees, employers, and even hospitals.
If you want to prevent employee injury and illness on the job, then:
- Normalize safe behavior.
- Model care and wisdom every day.
- Listen to employees, and ask them questions about their safety.
- Expect more experienced employees to show younger ones and new hires the right way to operate machines, not just the easy way.
- Remind your employees that you’re paying them for time spent adhering to safety standards.
A wise practice among several accident-risk occupations is “tailgate meetings,” “toolbox trainings,” or safety moments. This practice entails that you (or another representative) simply take 3-5 minutes to share a brief safety message with employees at the beginning of each shift. These safety training snippets remind employees of essential precautions they may have forgotten or neglected as they rush to finish their tasks.
How do you run a safety moment?
Running a safety moment should be instinctive and natural in the process of any meeting.
- Normalize holding these “interruptions” as if they were just another part of a daily or weekly briefing.
- Put it on the official agenda.
- Delegate the task among several senior employees, as well as offering some yourself.
- Explain “Why this training? Why now?” to contextualize the review of information and avoid boring your employees.
- Use the primary language of your employees, or use a translator.
The meeting may be a talk, a brief reading, a demonstration, a site walkthrough, or even an open discussion during which you ask questions or request feedback. Employees may not feel comfortable admitting their own mistakes (even without immediate consequences), pointing out a coworker’s mistake, or pointing out something they perceive as a company shortcut. But with time and effort, an employer can normalize frankness by demonstrating a willingness to protect their employees.
Topics: What Do I Say!?
Employers and training representatives in workplaces that hold frequent, even daily, meetings might encounter challenges in finding fresh ways to approach safety topics. Topics should be workplace- or job-specific. If a topic is too general, explain to employees how to apply it specifically to their daily or common tasks.
It can be helpful to delegate the opportunity to offer a safety moment. If you choose to do so, give your colleague or employee paid time to explore the topic online on a phone or computer. The act of doing that kind of “research” can create a sense of propriety or even pride over such knowledge for that member of your work community. They’ll be experts, and will feel like it.
Safety Provisions, Inc. Topics
Safety Provisions, Inc. offers toolbox trainings with each training kit (also included in the “Train the Trainer” products), because we know that safety principles aren’t something that can be explained once, and then permanently absorbed. Every employee needs review and reminding to stay safe and healthy throughout their careers. We care. We offer quality materials that will continue to be useful to employers and valuable to employees for years to come. Safety Provisions toolbox trainings include:
- Instructions for a particular safety measure
- A case study from real life
- Discussion questions
- A call for an implementation plan, and
- A roll sheet for employees to acknowledge training and commit to the plan.
Training is only the first step in safety. It’s up to your employees to act. We hope you’ll take advantage of this product.
But if you found this article as you were browsing for quick answers and aren’t ready for comprehensive training materials yet, many other reputable websites offer lists or materials for “toolbox talks.” They may require a few minutes of sifting before you find a useful and relevant topic. Some of the best include:
- OSHA’s Alphabetical Listing of Topics.
- Villanova University Facilities Management (divided by topic)
- Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (divided by topic)
- Harvard Environmental Health & Safety (general information in well-designed sheets)
- Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (general topics)
Be open to exploring reliable information sources for topics that are specific to your occupation or employees. You should feel free to use .gov or .edu sources to write your own brief presentations or compile your own list of topics. But, always keep your focus on accuracy, safety, thoroughness, and doing more, not less, than is required by law. If you put in the minimum, that’s all you’ll get out.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes a lot of materials that employees and employers can download, print, and use freely or order for posting at worksites. These publications range from ebooks in .pdf, pamphlets and posters, reference materials, and even videos. All are provided in English and Spanish, and some are provided in other languages as well.
The website is searchable and includes easily accessible tabs for ebooks, topics, type of publication, and languages. Some publications that might make useful Safety Moments are:
- Fatal Facts
- OSHA alerts
- Safety and Health Information Bulletins (SHIBs).
- The $afety Pays calculator
- The Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP)
Remember that OSHA inspectors can legally enforce OSHA standards. Trainers should repeat and reinforce those standards during training minutes while they also teach best practices and other safety recommendations.
As you customize your safety moments to your specific worksite, aim to be inclusive. Employees are safer when they are aware of the different tasks taking place around them, from observation and administration to data entry to deliveries to heavy machinery operations. Learning safe practices, even for tasks employees won’t necessarily perform themselves, can create a sense of community that encourages employees to care about each other’s health.
Think of your workplace as an anthill: ants divide themselves into different tasks, but each group depends on the other for their lives. Have you ever watched an anthill? Ants complete their tasks and ignore everyone else. They’re biologically programmed to do what they are doing. We humans can be more sophisticated than that. Situational awareness will increase everyone’s safety, and that requires giving everyone some idea of all the processes at a particular site.
Below you’ll read some specific examples of possible scenarios of toolbox training and safety reviews. Feel free to make the ideas work for your worksite and occupations. If you don’t already, add Safety Moments or Toolbox Talks to regular meetings that you already hold.
Juan is the morning site supervisor. At the beginning of his shift, he gathers all of the employees together to assign tasks and set goals. Before he jumps into it, though, he takes a moment to walk them over to the crane controls and point out the kill switch.
He tells them, “If you see anyone in danger, or if the operator is unconscious, any one of you can use this switch.” He touches just below the button, making sure everyone gets a glimpse, and gives his employees a mnemonic device to remember which one it is. Juan explains that the switch is a fast shut-down, and should only be used in an emergency because it can damage the machine.
Juan concludes his brief talk with two true stories that emphasize the need for correct use of a kill switch:
- In the first story, a dump truck operator was connecting a trailer and tried to nudge it backwards, but the kill switch was set to “off,” and he accidentally started the engine in reverse. It threw him back, pinning him under the wheel. He asphyxiated.
- In the second story, an employee inspecting some printing presses turned and slipped, catching his hand between two operational rubber rollers. He was able to reach out and activate the kill switch, and the paramedics were called. He was hospitalized, but survived with a crushing hand injury and skin damage.
Juan listens to his employees as they talk about how to avoid accidents like the ones he describes and is confident that they’ll be responsible. He commits them to share the information with at least one other employee who isn’t on that shift, and then Juan moves to the next agenda item.
Sarah is a warehouse foreman who spends a few hours on the warehouse floor every shift. She can see much of what’s going on, and she always double-checks for OSHA compliance and other safety protocols. She has asked her shift leaders to hold Toolbox Trainings at least once a week, but she can see that some employees have become a bit lax about the weight limits for the type of forklift they use. Making more trips would take more time, but so would a forklift that tipped over.
Sarah immediately contacts all shift leaders to remind employees of the Working Load Limit, and she knows exactly what she’ll present at their bi-monthly staff meeting. She prepares a 15-minute presentation on forklift load safety. When she presents the information at the meeting, she ends with strategizing among experienced workers. They discuss how to recognize a dangerously heavy load, what to do if you see one, and how to maintain the stellar efficiency that her warehouse is known for. She’s pleased to see that the younger and newer employees seem interested and impressed.
Bob has been on a road construction crew for several years now, and has the respect of the other people on his team. He trained as a motor grader operator, but has recently started driving a dump truck to move old road material. He prides himself on the precision of his dumping – he gets every pebble into the ditch, and the dumping ground employees thank him for it. But Bob’s crew leader has recently taken a Safety Moment to talk about some of the dangers of dumping on uneven grades.
Bob starts being more careful when he dumps near a slope. He has a couple of adorable grandbabies and he wants to be a part of their lives. When the dumping ground guys tease him, he shows them pictures of his grandkids and a link to an accident report of a guy killed in Ohio when his truck flipped and crushed him. Bob’s reputation on the crew has changed a little, but the younger guys are following his example.
Remember that repetition, when used well, is an extremely effective aid to memory. Don’t shy away from some aspect of safety training just because it has already been taught recently. Just avoid teaching things in a way that will allow your listeners to tune out.
- Include a practical demonstration with real tools. (think: airline host demonstrating a seatbelt)
- Model the PPE.
- Crack an appropriate joke or cheesy pun.
- Make an appropriate gesture or facial expression that reinforces the concept.
- Associate the safety tip with a popular tune or lyrics to a popular song.
- Offer Kudos, or social rewards.
- Describe a worst-case scenario in explicit, exaggerated detail.
- Tell a true story from your own experience.
- Have your listeners repeat the concept, gesture, song, etc.
- Include a moment or two to quiz employees so you can be confident that they understand.
- Take questions.
- Ask for examples.
- Pass around faulty examples (worn hoses, broken bits, etc.) for tactile reinforcement.
Always use these techniques in conjunction with teaching the concept at least three times, so it sticks. Don’t worry about sounding repetitive; the life of your employees is far more important.
Unless your employees need a more thorough retraining or a site walkthrough, keep your safety moment short! Merriam-Webster reminds us that a “moment” is “a comparatively brief period of time.” The key to effective Safety Moments is to share a useful amount of information in a practical amount of time.
Stay on topic. Respect your employee’s time and attention. You might even set a five-minute timer to remind yourself. A quick review of a single safety procedure might even be less than a full minute.
Prepare for Failure
Prevention is best, but sometimes mistakes slip through. Always explain specifically for each training what to do if the procedure goes wrong. Reiterate what to do if something happens, or is about to happen. Prevention is best, but a quick, smart reaction can also save lives and limbs.
- Is there a panic button?
- Who is the site supervisor?
- Who has a phone and will call 911?
- What should an employee do if they see something unsafe happening?
- What should an employee do if they see corrosion, wear, or damage to equipment?
Safety First: No Hidden Agenda
A dynamic or expressive teacher can help employees remember safety concepts, but there’s a danger that the employees won’t take it seriously. Know your employees well enough to make that judgment. Even more importantly, help your employees trust you and your expertise. For an employee to be confident that their safety matters, it actually has to matter. That might mean being transparent about your bottom line.
At every point in a Safety Moment, put your employee’s safety first. People are always more important than deadlines, which can be renegotiated; machines, which can be repaired; or PPE, which can be replaced. Humans that work for you are your greatest asset and resource.
As an administrator, you might experience pressure from your superiors, accountants, or shareholders to work more quickly and cut corners, but injuries can slow and even halt productivity. Failing to report injuries is just as serious, and carries fines from $5,000 to $70,000. Overall, Liberty Mutual estimates that employers paid more than $1 billion per week for non-fatal workplace injuries in 2018. The National Safety Council estimated that workplace injuries and deaths cost $171 billion in 2019. Every accountant can stand behind those numbers.
This information is probably not new to you, but it might be new to your employees. Avoid emotional manipulation, even for their own benefit: they’re smart and they’ll catch on. Transparency and these simple financial facts can work toward convincing them that you take safety seriously. Consistent Safety Moments will, too.