Safety Articles

Improving Your Toolbox Talks: 5 Tips

Toolbox talks can be an important part of your safety arsenal. Here are five tips to help make your next one even better!

1. Cover Everything — Not Just Compliance

It’s important to include off-the-job examples in workplace toolbox talks. It’s just as important to bring in a full range of topics, too. 

Most toolbox talks cover OSHA standards and other compliance issues. But talking about rules isn’t enough — you also need to deal with why people break them. When workers are rushing, frustrated, tired, or complacent, they’re more likely to overlook, forget, or ignore an important safety regulation.

Even if they follow all the rules, human factors can cause people to take their eyes and mind off the task, trip over their own feet, or wander into the line of fire when they’re not paying attention. When someone doesn’t follow a procedure, they’re often categorized as “rule-breakers” who are deliberately ignoring rules. But it’s important to remember that nobody is ever trying to get hurt.

When a rule is broken, it’s most often the result of a worker’s state of mind that has clouded his or her judgment, a lack of good habits or reminders, or overall organizational complacency — all of which are good toolbox topics. If your toolbox talks aren’t dealing with the states of mind that lead to rule violations, a whole lot of injuries, and close calls, then your safety meetings have a big blind spot. You don’t need to overhaul your next talk, but you should include human factors in the conversation.

2. Tie It to Your Overall Safety Program

Toolbox talks are only one piece of the safety puzzle. From jobsite hazard analyses (JHAs) and observations to reporting systems and compliance training, most safety programs have ways to implement, track, and support safe behavior.

Safety meetings present a real opportunity to reinforce almost every aspect of your safety program. They’re a great way to remind workers about elements of safety that aren’t always visible or front of mind. 

Toolbox talks are also a chance to support ongoing safety initiatives. For example, if you’re implementing a human factors training program, safety talks are a way for workers to discuss and practice new skills, and for supervisors to boost awareness and decrease risk throughout their day.

Ideally, any training program will offer toolbox talks to help refresh its concepts in the workforce. Above all, make sure toolbox talks share the same message as the rest of your safety training.

3. Testing 1, 2, 3

If your toolbox talks aren’t eliciting the response you’d like, then shake things up. Try different approaches, formats, topics, and locations to see what works best. You can also ask for feedback from workers to find out what’s working and what isn’t. 

Take a systematic approach to testing. Change up one factor at a time, such as where you deliver the talks, and keep everything else the same. This will allow you to accurately assess the value of whatever it is that you’re testing. It may help to make a list of the different factors you want to test, and then document the results after every toolbox talk.

4. Invest in Toolbox Talks

The Internet makes everything seem easy and accessible. A quick Google search reveals dozens and dozens of free toolbox talks, safety discussion topics, and other resources. However, when it comes to safety talks, you often get what you pay for.

Common issues with free toolbox talks include:

• a one-size approach that doesn’t fit your workplace;

• poor production quality;

• inaccurate facts and bad advice;

• too long or too short;

• lack of storytelling/audience engagement.

You will find some gems, but you can’t rely solely on free safety talks. This means you have two options: buy them from a reputable source, or create your own.

Many training programs offer toolbox talks that are often well-produced and effective. If your training provider offers safety talks, then take advantage of them. Otherwise, you’re best served by creating your own. Free toolbox talks can still be useful if they address many of the concerns listed in this guide. Know what you’re looking for, and don’t compromise — feel free to use this guide to set the bar on quality for free toolbox talk material.

5. Create Your Own Talks

Instead of spending money, you can spend a bit of effort to craft your own toolbox talks. Even if it’s not perfectly polished, it can still be effective if you follow a few key steps:

• pick a topic your workers might deal with that week;

• offer a story about a relevant incident to get things started;

• outline what the safety standards are or ask the audience for best practices;

• ask how states of mind like rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency could elevate the risk.

Don’t forget to keep it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) and to practice it a few times first. Your toolbox talk doesn’t need to follow an exact formula. The goal is to engage your workers and get them thinking about possible risks, and anything that gets them talking about hazards, human factors, and safety practices will do exactly that.

The time investment is worth it. You’ll get talks tailored to your strengths as a presenter and that are focused on your company’s specific safety challenges.

About the Author:

Andrew Faulkner is the communications and content manager at SafeStart. He produces safety and training resources for safety professionals, including guides on PPE compliance and preventing slips, trips, and falls in the workplace, and he writes about the intersection of traditional safety compliance measures and human factors. For more information, contact: SafeStart,

Editor’s note: The original version of this article appeared online at For another 10 tips for your toolbox talk, check out the November 2017 issue of CoatingsPro Magazine.

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