Toolbox or tailgate meetings are brief meetings, usually done at the start of a work shift, that focus on the work for the day and review generic or task specific safety concerns that may require discussion. I have found that implementing the following three tactics can help to ensure that the toolbox meeting will to keep your listeners focused on the material.
Understand your audience – What do your people relate to? How can you effectively relate your content to the people that are participating in the meeting? What motivates them to work safely? Understanding these items will help you to get your audience to pay closer attention to your messages and create an emotional connection to the material that you are presenting by personifying information that is reviewed.
Keep it brief, but informative – Following the suggestion above, it is important to understand that your audience is getting ready to start their work day. They may be easily distracted by thoughts of planning their day or with biological needs (waiting to eat breakfast, not yet having their morning coffee, etc.). Keep in mind that you are presenting a toolbox talk, not a corporate level annual review meeting. It can be difficult to maintain the balance of communicating information and keeping attention, but understanding your audience’s motivators and distracters will help.
Make it topical – Try to make the information that you present relatable to the work that your group performs. For example, most safety professionals receive alerts or bulletins from other industries that may have little to nothing to do with our company’s area of expertise, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be valuable. If you are presenting a safety alert focusing on an injury caused by a failed lockout/tagout or botched energy isolation on a pressurized system to a group of workers in a woodworking shop, relate the content by asking questions about the material. “What went wrong? How did the worker get injured? When might we use an energy isolation to protect workers? How do we make sure that people are aware of the equipment that has been isolated?”
Not all workplace safety material will captivate your audience and keep them entertained for the duration of your meeting. This is especially true with detailed compliance related information (which is incredibly valuable, but can be dry). But hopefully these few ideas will help to streamline your toolbox meetings and keep your group focused.
Taking daily notes seems like a simple concept, right? Planning the day, recording conversations, ideas for improvements or corrective actions are some of the usual items that I record in my daily planner, and I’m betting that most safety professionals are much the same.
When I record my notes, I am usually quite messy; my hand writing is often sloppy, I scribble all over the pages and I’m left-handed on top of that. It sometimes makes it difficult to quickly recall information, which is critical in the field of workplace safety.
The easiest way that I have found to help make my notes faster to read and prioritize is to colour code them.
For example, when I am planning the normal “things to do” list during my day (call so and so, prepare X report, meeting at whatever o’clock), I will usually record the items in a black or blue standard ink. This isn’t anything earth-shattering and is exactly the same way that just about everyone records their daily activities.
The next step that I take to make my notations more effective is to apply a different colour to problems, set-backs or goals that have not been met and apply another colour to any improvements, new ideas and projects that have gone well. This way, I am able to record all of the things during my day that went well and also the things that went off-track. Throughout the work week, I am able to refer to the improvements or new ideas that I want to see created and am also able to organize and quickly identify anything that I might need to follow up on for projects that did not work out very well.
I use red and green as contracting colours in my notebooks. When I read anything in red, I know that I need to follow up on it and when I read anything in green I know that I have an improvement that I need to set into action. I normally use the Blueline (www.blueline.com) series of notebooks. Even their medium sized books will hold two pens in the coiled ring, which makes multiple ink colours easier.
The last step in my colour coding process is to make a summary page on either a bi-weekly or a monthly basis. This helps to create a quick guide for lessons that have been learned from any set-backs and will identify the improvements that have implemented. During any performance appraisal, quickly recalling improvements during the year has been vital in showcasing my efforts to open potential opportunities for advancement or improved compensation.
Hopefully you can implement and see benefit from some of these ideas into your daily notations.
One problem that many businesses face is their employees ignoring the information that is posted on the "Safety Board". In my experience, the safety board is relied on too heavily to communicate detailed company information that could be more effectively reviewed in a toolbox meeting or a brief discussion with workers.
How many people do you know that would willingly stand in front of the board and read though every policy or safe work practice that is posted there? I don't know many Safety Professionals that would want to, let alone workers and supervisors. Having said that, it is still an excellent place to post policy statements that are required by law in most jurisdictions.
So, what can we do to improve how our safety boards communicate to our workers? Below are some improvements that I feel will greatly improve your company's safety board if they are implemented:
1) Review material with workers in a meeting before it gets posted on the board.
Review the key aspects of what you plan to post before you actually post it. During the meeting, call attention to certain sections that may be too detailed or may not apply specifically to your audience and inform meeting participants that the information will be posted for everyone's review.
2) Post the board in a "real" common area.
Place the information where people will actually see it. If you post the information in a hallway where some people will go but rarely stop to read, what good is the information?
3) Use colour.
Using colour rather than black and white or grayscale will usually draw people's attention to the board, regardless of the content. This is especially true when the board is posted in a common, high traffic area like a break room.
4) Use pictures of your workplace on the board.
When workers see familiar places or their co-workers embodying a safety message, it may create an emotional connection to the message that will help with retention. Just make sure that you have the person's permission before taking their picture and posting it.
5) Call attention to updates.
This can be as simple as using a highlighter marker or a coloured border on the page that has been updated. When we call attention to the updates, people will often tend to approach and investigate the update for themselves.
Hopefully these suggestions will help your company to communicate your safety messages to your workers.
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