This article is part of our Back To Basics series, which highlights fundamental principles of environmental, health, and safety management. The series is written for EHS professionals new to this industry, as well as experienced pros who want to keep their skills fresh.
Done right, safety meetings are an opportunity to proactively address potential hazards and issues within your organization. And, they're a highly effective way to foster a culture of safety. Meeting with employees regularly keeps the lines of communication open in both directions.
Most companies are already using safety meetings or toolbox talks as part of their ongoing training efforts. But, as we head into the new year, now is the perfect time to take things a step further by thinking about how you can make your safety meetings more engaging and effective. Here are 12 tips to try:
1. Plan out your topics in advance
Oftentimes, safety meeting topics are decided at the last minute based on an incident or event that’s happened recently. Safety issues come up unexpectedly, so it makes sense to address these in your meetings. However, if you’re always planning your meeting agenda minutes beforehand, you’re missing out on an opportunity to shift your safety program from reactive to proactive.
Having topics planned out in advance can help ensure these sessions are aligned with your organization’s health and safety goals as well as your overall business strategy. Some companies keep the topics for daily safety briefings in a binder or shared document so they’re easily accessible.
2. Ask employees what they want to discuss
At the end of the day, safety meetings should equip employees with the tools they need to stay safe. The best way to know what employees need is, of course, to ask them.
If you haven't already, consider making employee feedback a part of your safety meeting planning process. Feedback can be collected informally through conversations with employees. Or, it can be collected formally through employee surveys, suggestion boxes, or mobile reporting apps.
3. Have employees lead the meeting
Employee-led training has been growing in popularity — and for good reason. After all, who better to address potential hazards and concerns than the employees who face them every day?
Not only do employee-led safety meetings enable workers to share their wisdom and experience, they also promote a sense of ownership around safety. For example, an experienced employee could demonstrate the proper way to lift and carry heavy objects. Or, they could share a story of a near miss or good catch and what they learned from it.
4. Limit the size of your meetings
Whenever possible, keep your safety meetings small. It may be better to have two or three smaller meetings for individual crews rather than one large meeting with the entire worksite.
Smaller meetings mean fewer distractions and side conversations. They tend to be shorter and more constructive. And, they encourage more participation from attendees.
5. Keep it brief
Safety meetings don't need to be a drawn out affair. In fact, some of the most effective safety meetings we've been a part of only lasted a few minutes. Shorter meetings force you to stay focused on what’s important. And, they keep workers from getting tired or tuning you out. With the right preparation and planning, five or ten minutes may be all you need.
6. Meet more frequently
If you only hold safety meetings once a month, consider experimenting with daily or weekly meetings instead. Some companies hold “safety huddles” — short, standup meetings — at the beginning of each shift. Huddles give supervisors a chance to address any safety issues or concerns as they arise. And, it puts workers in a safety-focused mindset to start their day.
7. Start and end your meetings on time
It might not seem like a big deal, but starting and ending your safety meetings at the scheduled time is crucial.
Imagine you're interviewing candidates for an opening at your company. You probably wouldn't hire someone who shows up late, because it shows they're not serious about the job. Similarly, starting an 8 AM safety meeting at 8:07 AM sends the message that it's not a priority.
Ending meetings on time is equally important. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting that drags on past its allotted time. On the other hand, wrapping up meetings on schedule shows that you value attendees' time and forces you to stay focused.
8. Share information from investigations and near miss reporting
A worker submits a near miss report about a machine that's missing a guard. Now what? Safety meetings are a good opportunity to highlight the outcomes of incident investigations. You can also use this time to share information about any corrective actions or changes to work procedures as a result of incident investigations.
9. Check for understanding
Giving a short quiz at the end of the meeting is one way to check for understanding. But, it's not the only way. Other ways to assess employees' understanding of the topic include:
- Asking them to summarize important concepts
- Monitoring breakout discussions
- Filling out an exit slip
- Using hand signals (thumbs up/down, rate 1-5)
If your safety meetings are happening virtually on Zoom or another meeting platform, you can make use of polls or the chat box feature to check for understanding and resolve any remaining questions.
10. Use hands-on activities
Hands-on activities are a great supplement to traditional toolbox talks. Instead of just watching or listening, for example, you might ask workers to practice the right way to put on and take off a respirator.
Hands-on activities allow workers to apply the concept in real life. And, it allows supervisors to provide on-the-spot feedback and corrections.
11. Use humor
Although safety is a serious topic, safety meetings don't have to be dry or boring. A funny video or comic strip could be the perfect jumping-off point for your next toolbox talk.
Using humor can help engage employees (and keep them from tuning you out). In fact, research shows that people tend to pay closer attention and retain information better when they find it funny.
12. Provide food
Finally, consider offering snacks or a meal if your budget allows. Providing food at a meeting — even if it's just fresh fruit and coffee — helps create a welcoming atmosphere that will put your employees at ease. Not only that, but serving nutritious foods will give your employees the energy they need to get through their shift safely. Give it a try!
Need some ideas for your next toolbox talk?
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Note: This article was originally published in December 2020 and was updated in November 24, 2022 for freshness and comprehensiveness.