Know Your Material

Although training is an integral part of any health and safety program, doing it effectively often is easier said than done. The toolbox talk is a refresher to remind workers of specific safety topics that may apply to a certain job site, task or seasonal safety issue. When presented well, these talks can be an efficient way to get employees to focus on a safety topic that they soon will face.

Typically, a toolbox talk is a short, weekly lesson given at the beginning of the work shift. As with any teacher in any educational setting, some individuals are better at presenting information than others. Is it because some are just naturally gifted in the art of teaching or that others are more knowledgeable about the subject? Not necessarily; there are ways for anyone to improve presentation skills in order to conduct an effective toolbox talk. Studies show that there is a commonality among more effective educators. These characteristics are detailed below.

 ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS AND A STRAIGHTFORWARD PRESENTATION: All toolbox talks are not created equal; when giving one, the presenter should have the talk prepared and logically organized. The more comfortable one is with the presentation, the more naturally and effectively the talk will flow. If the presenter appears to be disorganized and uncertain of the presentation, the audience—in this case, a shift of construction workers—will quickly pick up on that and lose interest.

 ENTHUSIASM: We have all been to a lecture where the presenter spoke monotonously with little or no expression. The audience would probably soon stop paying attention. The speaker may be prepared, organized and very knowledgeable, but how the material is presented is almost as important as the content. The speaker has to sell the topic and make the audience feel the passion the presenter feels for the subject. If a speaker projects his or her interest and enthusiasm for a subject, that attitude can extend to the audience, causing them to believe in the importance of the information.

 PRESENTER’S KNOWLEDGE: Another factor that can make or break a toolbox talk is the presenter’s comfort level with the topic. There is a definite connection between knowledge and comfort level in presenting the material. The more familiar someone is with the subject matter, the smoother the talk will flow.

Although it is important to appear to be an expert, it is just as important to admit when the information isn’t there. There is no sin in not knowing everything, and it can be important for employees at the talk to see that the expert sometimes has to ask questions and do research to find the right answer.

 GROUP TEACHING: Many polls have shown that public speaking ranks as one of the most common fears. A well-organized, fact-filled presentation can help to calm some of these fears, as can good advance preparation. It also is important to remember that when presenting to a group, not all members will have the same background. Toolbox talks attract a group with a range of knowledge. At any one site, there will be employees with decades of practical experience and those on their first job site. In this situation, it is important to understand the employees all have varying levels of knowledge and expertise. Some may certainly have the basic information already, but when it comes to safety, repetition can be a good way to reinforce an important topic.

 MODELING PROFESSIONALISM: When doing a presentation on safety, it is important that the presenter follows his or her own safety recommendations. The employees must feel the presenter is not only talking about the topic, but also buying into the safety topic at hand. It is crucial to any safety program that the employees feel management supports the program and believes the employees’ safety is important to the company’s success. This trickles all the way down to toolbox talks. If the presenter follows the safety concepts, it will signal to the employees that safety should be a major concern to everyone. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

Many in education refer to their job as “acting out a part.” This refers to the enthusiasm and interest level the presenter projects to the audience. This can be the difference between a successful toolbox talk and a failure. Your employees’ safety may depend on the quality of these presentations and what they take away from them.

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and Joe O’Connor edited this article.

About the Author

Diane Kelly

Safety Columnist
Diane Kelly is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkell...

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