Employers are morally and legally obliged to provide “suitable and sufficient” health and safety training and, legally, must ensure that workers are fully aware of the risks and hazards that they face in the working environment. Stefan Mordue outlines ways in which such training can be delivered, looking in particular at safety briefings and toolbox talks.

Introduction

Training could be face-to-face — such as classroom-based learning, toolbox talks or instruction — or resource-based — tapping into a range of multimedia resources to allow learners to get up to speed at their own pace. See the topic on Health and Safety Training: Methods.

Both safety briefings and toolbox talks allow supervisors to ensure health and safety is firmly at the forefront in the minds of workers and help promote a health and safety culture, keeping people both safe and productive.

Safety briefings and toolbox talks

The terms “safety briefing” and “toolbox talk” are often used interchangeably but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes a distinction between the two.

Safety briefings are short formal meetings usually delivered by the site supervisor that detail the health and safety hazards and risks that workers will face. The intention of the briefing is to convey information and instructions, and should be attended by everyone that will be working on the particular site involved including subcontractors and key members of the supply chain.

Safety briefings are usually held daily, on site, prior to the start of a job, shift or access to the site. To be effective such briefings should be brief; mindful that an attendee’s concentration is likely to dip after the 30-minute mark.

In contrast, the toolbox talk is an informal short presentation that should focus on a single topic and explore the risks of specific health and safety issues on site. Examples include workplace hazards and safe work practices. As well as informing inexperienced workers, they are a good way to provide reminders to experienced workers of correct control measures. Toolbox talks are typically somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes in length. The person giving the talk doesn’t have to be a site supervisor or expert, however, good presentation and communication skills are important as is a positive attitude to a health and safety culture.

While the talks are informal, regular meetings (as and when required) will help reinforce an organisation’s commitment to maintaining a safe working environment. For example, a toolbox talk may be a good way of addressing an upcoming change to regulations or standards, or a reoccurring health and safety issue.

Traditionally, the speaker would stand on an actual toolbox. This is no longer a prerequisite, but a warm, dry space free of distractions, such as a site office, will undoubtedly aid the meeting’s effectiveness.

Purpose of briefings and talks

Safety briefings and toolbox talks are both direct communication methods. Information and knowledge is shared and exchanged, and understanding reaffirmed. Such short, sharp meetings are a way of refreshing workers’ knowledge and also help facilitate wider health and safety discussions.

To be effective, content should be interesting, informative, engaging and memorable. The speaker should make it clear from the beginning of the session why the topic being discussed is important, what is going to be covered, and the expected learning outcomes.

Before the session wraps up, the speaker should summarise the content, key points or take home messages. This summary should make reference to any interactive activities (such as a group discussion).

Briefings and toolbox talks may make use of a range of tools to facilitate learning — whiteboards or flipcharts to note key points or discussions, printed notes to aid discussion or act as a reference guide, or a PowerPoint presentation to help pace and summarise the talk itself.

The advance of technology offers new ways to communicate and help get the message across as well as offering up new topics for discussion; perhaps the challenges of Building Information Modelling (BIM) implementation and new digital ways of working. A consideration could be to explore how the new tools at your disposal such as mobiles, tablets and computers can help improve and augment traditional face-to-face meetings, schedules and drawings.

An engaging mix of video clips, animations, photos and diagrams will all help get the message across. In the not too distant future, virtual reality (VR) is set to play an even bigger role offering new opportunities to explore a computer-generated model in a more immersive and interactive way. Linked to a mobile phone, VR headsets can facilitate a virtual and immersive world in which workers can explore the possible hazardous situations in a safe and virtual environment. Pokémon Go players will already appreciate the potential benefits of augmented reality — where additional information is displayed upon a real-world viewport. There’s potential here to help train and explain a range of things that would have traditionally relied upon face-to-face communication.

Limitations

Inevitably, new ways of working present challenges as well as opportunities. The internet is a valuable source of information, but many file-sharing and media sites such as YouTube may be banned on corporate networks, requiring changes to policies and behaviours. While VR headsets and mobile devices are becoming commonplace within the design phase of a project, the construction site offers its own unique challenges. When using multimedia you should be mindful that, on a newly-established construction site, an internet connection may not be in place until later stages.

Top tips for effective presentations.

The bookshelves and internet are filled with good information and advice on producing effective presentations but we’ve singled out a few tips to help you deliver.

  • Try to punctuate long spells of talking with questions or other interactives to help retain interest and check the participants’ understanding.

  • Visual examples help facilitate and aid understanding. These examples can take a range of forms — from diagrams or photographs to BIM models or video clips. Role-playing exercises can also serve as a useful check on understanding the right approach.

  • As well as making material relevant to the task in hand, consider topicality. Are there examples in the news you can use to show a real-world relevance?

Resources

When thinking about pulling together a toolbox talk, it is not always necessary to start from a blank sheet of paper. The HSE has prepared a number of toolbox talks which can be downloaded for free. These include materials that focus on the safe use of ladders, falls from vehicles and manual handling. A presentation pack, aimed at smaller construction companies prepared by Site Safe Scotland with assistance from the construction industry, WWT Campaign and HSE, provides slides and speaker notes that cover the site induction process. See what’s available at www.hse.gov.uk.

The leadership in construction involvement toolkit includes seven steps to help contractors and managers learn how to make health and safety improvements in their business. It includes a PowerPoint training aid for managers and supervisors who deliver toolbox talks to workers and safety briefings, and an information sheet giving hints on how to be an effective communicator and presenter. These can be found at www.hse.gov.uk.

Conclusion

Safety briefings and toolbox talks have an essential role to play in ensuring health and safety matters are at the forefront of your workers’ minds, helping to keep your site safe and productive.

A range of resources can be used to help you plan your talks and keep them relevant to the site and project at hand and, crucially, engaging. By thinking about what you want to get across upfront, it’s easy to “design in” multimedia and participatory elements to help avoid the fabled “death by PowerPoint”.

Last reviewed 3 January 2017