Workplace Communicator Blog

Why Optimising your Tool Box Talks Improves your Safety Outcomes

Posted by Marie-Claire Ross on Mon, Jun 5, 2017


Employee engagement.  Organisational culture.  You're probably sick of hearing these corporate buzzwords. When it comes to safety, very rarely do you see employee engagement studies linking the benefits between engaged employees and safe workplaces. 

But a TINYPulse study, found that the American construction industry has higher levels of employee engagement than other industries.

The reason? Regular safety meetings that ensure employees feel heard and that the company cares about their well-being.

Tool box talks are a wonderful way to get people talking about safety and being more present about what they need to do to ensure both their co-workers, and themselves, are working safely.

Sadly, not all safety meetings are created equal. It all comes down to how many engaged and disengaged employees you have in your meetings.

Engaging Employees in your Toolbox Meeting

Across the board, engaged employees put in more effort. They ensure things are done right, actively offer their opinions on safety, suggestions and feedback.

On the other hand, disengaged employees don’t speak up during toolbox talks. They are cynical about safety programs, break safety rules and take shortcuts. They also get injured more.

The difference in safety results is huge.  According to a study by Molson Coors, the average cost of a safety incident for a disengaged employee is six times the cost of an engaged employee.

But that’s not all - engaged employees are five times less likely to have a safety incident and seven times less likely to have a lost time incident.

Workers become disengaged through lack of appreciation or trust from the organisation. They feel that safety is another thing that’s being “done to them, rather than with them.”

That’s why toolbox talks can be leveraged to actually improve engagement and safety, through giving employees a voice.

But you can’t just follow standard toolbox talk programs.  Supervisors and safety personnel need to understand how to design toolbox talks that provide employees with the psychological safety they need to talk about safety issues and rectify them.

It starts with supervisors. Supervisors are integral when it comes to business performance.  Research has found that supervisor leadership skills drive job satisfaction, productivity, skills development and safety performance improvement.  

Improving leadership skills of front-line supervisors, not only improves safety, but also company profitability improves by 8.2% (according to research by Christine Boedker, Australian School of Business). 

It’s important that supervisors have the right leadership skills to facilitate open safety discussions. The following six abilities are found amongst high-performing supervisors:

  1. A positive attitude towards safety - Interestingly, companies with supervisors that believe that workplace deaths are an inevitable part of doing business, almost always have more fatalities than other companies who don't believe that. 
  2. Valuing safety over production pressures - Great supervisors let staff know that they will not be punished for turning off a machine that will result in a delay, but which could also have cut off their arm. 
  3. Sharing important safety-related information  - Good supervisors have a mindset of constantly improving and training on safety.  This means staff quickly realise how important safety is in the workplace.
  4. Enabling positive communication between frontline and senior management - Supervisors are linchpins in an organisation. If senior leaders wish to get front line staff to buy in to an initiative, it needs to be approved by supervisors.  
  5. Never ignoring poor safety behaviours - Companies that have a great safety culture have supervisors that do not tolerate poor safety behaviours. 
  6. Ability to inspire - Safety is a dry topic.  Many companies often complain that staff aren't engaged or interested in safety.  Great supervisors lead safety meetings in a way that gets everyone involved and interested in safety.  They rally the team and get them all discussing and thinking about safety solutions.

Successfully leading an engaging toolbox talk isn’t easy.   Organisations need to teach supervisors and safety leaders how to do it and why it’s important.  This can be accomplished by providing your employees with techniques on how to effectively elicit conversation and feedback.  In addition, standardised safety meeting templates that use best practices need to be incorporated to more easily implement and manage effective safety meetings.

Our 9 Creative Communication Techniques to Improve Toolbox Talks Training DVD provides safety leaders with the ablity to  design a more inclusive toolbox talk that gets everyone talking. It even includes a template to make it faster to design the right process for your organisation. For a short time only, we are offering both the DVD and Transform Your Safety Communication book for only $199.  Get your safety meeting template pack here.

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