Are you new to toolbox talks?
It can be hard to think of topics for your next safety meeting. Sometimes you’re ready to go with a handful of ideas, other times you’re staring at a blank document. Occasionally you’ll find yourself reading a blog post for some last-minute inspiration.
The key to an effective toolbox talk is understanding that it’s a chance to engage with your team. It should not simply be a presentation. It should be a two-way discussion. Your teammates are typically the ones most exposed to risk and have an understanding of what works practically in the real world – so they’re usually the ones with the best ideas!
Fortunately, there are hundreds of safety topics you could cover. We’ve put together this list of 10 broad topics that could spark some ideas relevant to your workplace.
But first, we’ll quickly explain what they are…
What is a Toolbox Talk?
A toolbox talk is a short safety meeting that’s held just before a shift starts. The name ‘toolbox talk’ comes from employees gathering around a toolbox for the meetings, but they’re also known as ‘pre-starts’.
These regular meetings focus on a single aspect of health and safety specific to your work site. The purpose of a toolbox talk is to create a safety discussion and receive feedback from your team.
Topics can be used to pass on important safety information but also work as a prompt for employees to discuss safety and identify potential hazards.
They should be a conversation, so be sure to break the ice and engage them from the start. Ask questions, inject humour or ask them to imagine themselves in certain situations to learn what they would do.
Here are 10 basic safety topics that are common across industry. Remember: keep your talk brief, stick to just one topic and make sure it’s applicable to your workplace and team.
10 Toolbox Talk Topics
#1 First Aid
In 2017, the Red Cross found less than 5% of people in Australia were trained in first aid, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Do you know who’s first aid trained in your team? Or where the kit is kept? These are a couple of simple questions you could begin your talk with.
Yes it’s important to talk about preventing injuries in the first place, but first aid information and training should be an equal priority. Before you cover your first aid topic (if you’re focusing on one) make sure your team knows the basics:
- Who to alert if a colleague is injured
- Where the first aid kits are kept
- Where the first aid room is
#2 Hazardous Chemicals
We expose ourselves to chemicals every day. Hand soap, bleach and dishwashing liquid are a few you can find at home and at work. However, some sites store far more powerful and hazardous chemicals, which you wouldn’t want to casually mop up if you came across a spill.
Coming into contact with dangerous liquids may be more common than you think. Last year Safe Work Australia found chemicals and other substances caused 835 serious claims.
Do you know what chemicals are used around your workplace? What would you do if you came into contact with one? If your team isn’t aware of the situations that can occur when chemicals aren’t stored and used safely, now’s a great time to discuss it.
Discuss how to handle them, appropriate PPE and where the data safety sheets are located. Even if most of your people aren’t handling chemicals, they need to know what to do if there’s an accident.
And like the first aid kits, make sure everyone knows where your eye wash stations or safety showers are, and how and when to use them.
#3 Manual Handling and Ergonomics
How do you spend most of your day? Are you sitting? Standing? Squished inside a haul truck? It’s easy to forget the pressure we put our bodies under to handle our day-to-day demands.
When you feel that twinge in your back or a niggle in your knee, it’s sure to slow you down but not everyone gets off so lightly. Hazardous manual handling is one of the biggest causes of injuries in Australian workplaces, partly because they happen so easily. An object doesn’t need to be that heavy to cause serious damage if it’s not handled properly. In fact, you could be sitting awkwardly at your desk right now and not even know it.
Try getting your team to think about the positions their jobs demand of them. What do they need to lift, carry or move to get the work done? Try practising lifting techniques, asking them to think about the improvements that could be made to their workspace, or demonstrating how to secure a load correctly.
#4 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is one of those things we can get complacent about and think of as uniform instead of protective clothing. It literally has our backs, so we need to give it the attention it deserves.
When was the last time you checked yours for holes or asked a professional if your earplugs fit properly? Hint: if your ears are swallowing your earplugs or spitting them out, they’re the wrong size.
A toolbox talk is the perfect opportunity to set time aside to inspect your PPE to make sure it’s in good working order and the correct fit.
#5 Working at Heights
Have you ever looked up at a high-rise building and spotted someone abseiling down it to clean the windows? For these guys, dangling one hundred feet above the ground is all in a day’s work. For others, working at heights is not as common and accidents can easily happen.
Safe Work Australia found 13% of work-related fatalities in 2018 were caused by falls from a height. Not only this, dropped objects accounted for 10% of work-related fatalities. When you combine these figures, almost one in four workplace fatalities in 2018 were caused by people working at heights.
A site’s working conditions can change from one shift to the next: the weather, equipment and procedures all play at part. Does your team know what risks to look out for? Do they know how to access and exit the site safely? Do they understand the impact a 500g spanner can have if dropped from 50 metres?
Before your team takes to the scaffolding, be sure to educate them on the measures and equipment your site has in place to prevent falls or falling objects. Plus encourage them to constantly be on the lookout and speak up if they spot anything unsafe on site.
It’s essential that anyone working at heights has had the right training and holds the correct tickets.
#6 Working in Hot Weather
Australia’s mean temperature exceeded 30C in January 2020, making it the hottest month since records began.
Working in these temperatures in thick PPE can make you a prime target for heat exhaustion, especially given that a whopping 80% of Australians live in a chronic state of dehydration.
At the start of summer, it’s a great idea to whip out those neck flaps and equip your team with the knowledge to stay safe in our sweltering conditions.
You could kick off your talk by asking your team a few essential questions like:
- Do you know where the water stations are?
- How about the sun cream?
- Can you identify and treat the signs of heat stroke or dehydration?
If the answer is no to any of those questions, now’s a great time to teach them.
#7 Incident Reporting
Incident reporting is a big part of improving safety on site. You know that a death or serious injury must be reported to SafeWork Australia, but does your team know the value behind reporting less serious incidents?
Incident reporting is not about allocating blame to any one worker or team, it’s there to make the workplace safer for everyone.
It’s really important your team understands how to report an incident and who to report it to. Make it as easy for them as possible because if an organisation isn’t made aware of every incident, it can’t improve procedures and reduce the chance of the same accidents happening again.
#8 Electrical Hazards
Electricity is a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives. We rely on it at work, at home and everywhere else in between – just think about the mayhem that ensues when it’s taken from us in a power outage. No lights. No coffee. No internet. No hope.
Working safely with electricity has also allowed us to advance in all areas, and it’s in our modern-day nature to expect things to work with a flick of a switch. But do you know how many vaults are flowing through each tool or piece of equipment? If it gave you a shock would it be just that, or would it be life threatening?
Your toolbox talk could remind workers that only an electrician can complete electrical work, before getting into a more specific topic like:
- Extension cords – how to check the cord for damage or frayed insulation, protecting cords from damage while using them, placing cords properly or covering them to avoid creating a tripping hazard etc.
- Electric shocks – would your teammates know what to do if they saw someone get shocked?
- Isolation tags – does your team know how to correctly use and read them?
#9 Hand Tool Inspections
Imagine your job without hand tools. How long would it be before you developed a soft tissue or repetitive strain injury, or worse?
While hand tools make the job easier and faster, they can also cause injuries if used incorrectly or not looked after.
Your toolbox talk should remind employees to check their tools at the start of the shift. If a tool should be sharp, sharpen it. If a tool is damaged, replace it. If you don’t have the right tool, go and get it. A few minutes spent inspecting your tools before using them can avoid serious injuries.
Completely destroying a structure sounds like a lot of fun (especially after those “challenging” days), but with great power comes great responsibility. It’s a high-risk job that comes with a great deal of danger.
Some demolition topics you could cover include:
- Structural risks – premature collapse or being hit by falling or projectile objects are all very real dangers on demolition sites. Make sure your team is aware of these possible outcomes, and the best ways to avoid them.
- Licences – did you know that a licence is required for certain types of demolition work in WA? Or that only a licence holder or an employee of a licence holder can carry out this type of work? You can learn more about licences, different types and how to get one here.
- Asbestos – one risk that literally lurks behind closed doors is asbestos. Asbestos was once used in Australia in more than 3,000 different products including drains, roofs and gutters. Are your employees trained and licensed asbestos removers? Do they know how to identify it or who to alert if they find it?
Explain the risk management plan at the start of the shift to ensure all workers know the risks and what they’ve done to reduce them.
Still need ideas?
The ideas listed above are a few basics to get you started. If you feel like you’re going over old ground because you’ve run out of topics, you might be tempted to reduce the frequency of your toolbox talks. We don’t recommend this!
Toolbox talks are a prime opportunity to improve the communication in your team, educate each other about risks on a daily basis and keep safety at the forefront of everything you do.
If you’ve covered these topics before or some of them don’t apply to your workplace, take a walk around your site and pay attention to potential hazards or risky activities. Any one of them could be a good talking point. You should also ask your team questions and find out what they’d like to discuss. They may have noticed potential problems or have questions about safe procedures on the site but haven’t found the right time to ask.