Reduce Workplace Injuries With Five-Minute Toolbox Talks

Construction Executive article by Nick Oates
January 2021

Companies always hope that their employees never get injured on the job, but the reality is that workplace accidents do happen, particularly in the construction space. In fact, OSHA reports that the construction industry is responsible for more workers’ compensation claims on an annual basis than any other industry in the United States.

According to Insurance Journal, the most frequent causes of workplace injuries are:

  • material handling;
  • slips, trips and falls;
  • being struck by or colliding with an object;
  • accidents involving tools; and
  • traumas occurring over time, for example when a part of the body is injured by overuse or strain.

The question is, “How can I reduce these workplace incidents?” While this is a complex question and the answer involves a multipronged approach, one thing employers can implement immediately to reduce workplace accidents is the “daily toolbox talk.” Daily toolbox talks play an important role in containing losses and improving overall culture. In fact, the ABC 2020 Safety Performance Report found that companies that conduct daily toolbox safety meetings reduce the total recordable incident rate (TRIR) by 82%, compared to companies that hold them monthly.

An effective safety toolbox talk contains four key topics that can be covered in 5-10 minutes:

  1. goal/management expectation;
  2. personal protection equipment expectation and usage;
  3. best practices; and
  4. post-accident response expectations.

1. GOAL/MANAGEMENT EXPECTATION

In this section of the toolbox talk, discuss the overall labor goal of the day’s work. Make it clear to the team that employee safety is the most important concern so they shouldn’t feel pressured to do things to save time but which also put them at risk. It’s important that employees regularly hear that the company cares about their safety and that they are not to put themselves at risk of injury.

2. PERSONAL PROTECTION EQUIPMENT EXPECTATION AND USAGE

Use this part of the toolbox talk to make it clear what the expectations are as it pertains to employees using the required PPE. Walk employees through the PPE they will be using, including head protection, eye and face protection, hand and skin protection, and hearing protection so the staff is far less likely to forget to use the PPE or just neglect it.

If there has been a recent trend of not using a particular type of PPE, be sure to call particular attention to it and make it clear why it is required. When possible, use a statistic to drive the point home. For example, each year around 150,000 hand injuries are reported in the construction field. Other occupational skin issues like contact dermatitis, skin cancers and other skin injuries and infections are common, costly and sometimes painful and they can all be avoided by wearing the proper PPE.

3. BEST PRACTICES

Remind employees of best practices and why they matter. This is a great opportunity to stress the importance of good communication between foremen and laborers. If laborers have safety concerns, how should they bring that to the attention of the foreman? What will happen after they do that? What actions will be taken to address the safety concern?

Staff likely knows that they should be working in two-man lift crews, but they often neglect to do things they know they’re supposed to do when they’re not reminded continually of their purpose. Explain the importance of two-man lift crews even if the employee thinks they know it. A good reminder can do a lot of good in reducing injuries. Remind all staff that they have colleague accountability to work safely and use PPE. By doing this, they’re not just keeping themselves safe, they’re keeping their colleagues safe as well.

4. POST-ACCIDENT RESPONSE EXPECTATIONS

No matter how many precautions a company takes, accidents will happen. Use this part of the toolbox talk to remind everyone of what the expectations are when an accident happens. How exactly should they respond? The foreman must communicate the expectation of the specific steps that will be taken if and when someone gets hurt. One of those steps should be to immediately report the accident to the foreman.

What medical facilities are utilized when an accident happens? For minor injuries, the foreman should direct the injured person to a specific medical clinic. If the injury is more severe and requires ER services, where is the nearest emergency room? Explain that the foreman will be responsible for filling out an incident report and he or she will discuss the injury the next day during the toolbox talk in order to take corrective action, increase awareness, and increase workplace safety.

Toolbox talks are incredibly important and effective at reducing injuries on the job. Toolbox talks keep safety top of mind for everyone and are a very simple tool that can be put in place immediately to improve workplace safety.

Nick Oates is a Workers’ Compensation Specialist with in-depth knowledge in both the window/door manufacturing industries, construction and the masonry profession. This knowledge and experience stems from his high school and college years working in a stone yard and having grown up in a family business the revolves around the window and door industry. He is in Knight-Dik’s Worcester, MA office and can be reached at [email protected].