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9 things your supervisors should know about toolbox talks

Toolbox Talks

By Safety Smart on 22 March 2017

1. What’s a Tool Box Talk?

Tool box talks, tailgate meetings, safety time-outs, crew briefings – the names vary by industry. But no matter what you call them or what industry you’re in, don’t assume that your site supervisors or crew leaders embrace the need for these gatherings or even understand what you’re asking them to pass on to employees. So before implementing a tool-box-talk type of program, give them these pointers – formulated as FAQs.

When I was new to the workforce, my supervisor would gather us around the machine shop and deliver a quick safety pep talk. (Actually, it went more like “be careful while you set up.”) Then he would pass out the work assignments and give everyone their tool list. We called them tool box talks because there was always a tool box nearby and someone was always leaning on it. When I visited construction sites with my father, these talks were held around the tailgate of the site supervisor’s pick-up truck. Whether it was around the tailgate or by the tool box, these talks were basically the same thing: informal safety meetings between the supervisor and employees.

2. Who Should Conduct Them?

These meetings should be conducted by the person with direct supervision over the employees. If the safety manager comes along and speaks – however briefly – it gives the impression that the safety manager, not the supervisor, is responsible for safety.

3. What Topics Should Be Covered?

Topics should be specific to your work environment. They should be topical and varied to cover:
• Accident trends
• Job-specific training requirements
• Specifics related to the equipment and/or tools that the employee group will be using.

Generic topics aren’t usually effective because the employee can’t relate the information to a specific job task. The topic needs to be not just specific but relevant to the employee. There’s no need to talk about sailing safety to employees in an assembly plant.


4. What Makes Them Effective?

The effectiveness of tool box talks is determined by:
• How topical the subject is
• The relevance of the topic to the job at hand
• How easy it is for employees to understand the talk

Opening a work session or taking time during a regular work shift to discuss safety topics associated with the task at hand can be very effective in keeping job safety fresh in the employee’s mind.


5. Where Do They Come from?

You can create the talks in-house or buy them from outside sources. They can also be made up of snippets from specific training programs. The choice is yours.


6. How Often Should You Give Them?

You can deliver tool box talks at predetermined intervals, say monthly. This gives the supervisor time to get together with the crew. It also reinforces the fact that the supervisor is responsible for safety. Toolbox talks are informal, but their regularity will reinforce a commitment to a safe work environment.

Tool box talks should also be flexible enough to be used to address new and timely issues, such as changes to equipment or processes. For example, you might want to use talks to introduce new or different PPE when introducing new chemicals to the worksite.


7. How Long Should They Last?

Tool box talks should be short and to the point. In my experience, it’s best to limit them to no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Paradoxically, shorter talks usually require the most preparation. It takes a lot of time and effort to distill the essential information and present it in an engaging way.


8. Who Should Attend Them?

Every employee who reports to the person conducting the talk should attend. This may make it necessary to schedule multiple sessions so that the supervisor can reach crews that are in different work areas, have different work assignments and/or use different equipment.


9. Should Attendance Be Documented?

Yes. You can then use the materials to document compliance with various training requirements. For example, tool box talks attendance sheets can help prove that you delivered requisite training.



The potential applications for tool box talks are endless. The only limits are your resources and your imagination.


This article first appeared in Safety Smart, written by Anthony Izzo, and is reproduced with permission. 

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