Updated April 2021.
Every team loves a coach who inspires as well as instructs. In construction, that means a toolbox talk that informs, engages, and sometimes even entertains.
We’ve rounded up 20 toolbox topics that will keep your audience attentive. Breathe some life into these micro-trainings by putting your own spin on one or more of these unique toolbox ideas.
Fire extinguishers are permanent fixtures on job sites and in work vehicles. However, a standard five-pound fire extinguisher can fully discharge in just 15 seconds, so knowing how to use the tool — and when to evacuate — is critical. A quick reminder on correct usage could be a lifesaver. In this toolbox talk, also make sure to mention that fire extinguishers require monthly inspections.
- Portable Fire Extinguisher Use — Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
- Fire Extinguisher Use Poster — SafetyBanners.org
Damaging underground utilities is dangerous and costly. In the 2019 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report, the Common Ground Alliance says that in 2019 alone, “the societal costs of damages to buried utilities in the U.S. is estimated at $30 billion.”
Workers should be aware of all the safety risks associated with accidentally hitting and damaging underground utilities and how it can disrupt tight work schedules and budgets.
- 811 Videos, PSAs and Supporting Tools — Common Ground Alliance
- Best Practices Version 17.0 — Common Ground Alliance
If workers make the slightest mistake while working in a confined space, they can find themselves in a life-and-death situation. Between 2011 and 2018, 1,030 workers died from occupational injuries involving a confined space, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Given the riskiness of working in a confined space, a quick, periodic refresher on the subject can keep best practices and critical safety precautions top of mind.
- Safety Toolbox Talks: Confined Spaces — National Association of Home Builders TV (NAHBTV)
- Is 911 Your Confined Space Rescue Plan? — OSHA Fact Sheet
- Consider These Confined Space Best Practices — Industrial Hygiene & Safety News
Between COVID-19, recent silica dust regulations, and the spate of wildfires we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s safe to say most construction workers are more familiar with respiratory protection than ever before. However, some respirators require specialized knowledge different from wearing a standard dust mask.
A toolbox talk on this topic should cover respirator fitting, donning and doffing, and maintenance.
- A Guide to Respirators Used for Dust in Construction — CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH) Science Blog
- Filtering Out Confusion: FAQs About Respiratory Protection — CDC NIOSH
Every job site has one: a practical joker who thinks it’s funny to horse around with dangerous tools and equipment. Unfortunately, horsing around on a construction site can be hazardous, and in extreme cases, deadly. One OSHA accident report summarizes a scenario when an employee bet their coworker that he could walk across a frozen pond. But when he walked onto the ice, he fell through and drowned.
During this toolbox talk, discuss the rules, risks, and penalties, and emphasize why it’s especially essential that construction workers save the (responsible) fun for after they leave the job site.
- 4 Keys to Preventing Workplace Horseplay — EHS Daily Advisor
- Tool Box Talk: Horseplay in the Workplace — University of Illinois Facilities & Services
Equipment maintenance and calibration
Equipment malfunctions are productivity killers, pushing back tight work schedules for minutes, hours, or even days. Using a toolbox talk to teach workers the basic ins and outs of maintaining and calibrating work vehicles and equipment can help you avoid significant setbacks. This way, your crew can independently troubleshoot simple issues without having to call in reinforcements.
Knowing proper maintenance practices also helps prevent accidents caused by failing brakes, rupturing hoses, and similar issues.
- Construction Equipment Maintenance: How Often and When to Schedule — eSub Inc.
- Maintaining Heavy Construction Equipment — Nationwide Construction
Despite the symptoms your body will give you when exposed to excessive heat, some workers ignore signs of heat-related illnesses for fear of losing out on hours or putting a project behind schedule. A toolbox talk on the subject can reinforce the idea that health is a top priority.
- Heat-related Illnesses — TriMedia Environmental & Engineering
- Heat-related Illnesses and First Aid — OSHA
- OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool — CDC via Apple App Store
Cold weather safety
It’s as important to stay safe in cold winters as it is to protect yourself from excessive heat. Understanding how to dress for snow, with PPE including boots that protect against frostbite, and how to winterize work vehicles and equipment, is essential. Prepare a talk for autumn that touches on winter job site safety tips.
Shift work is common during the busy season, with many workers toiling late into the night to meet deadlines. However, your crew should be aware of the health risks associated with shift work, including fatigue, sleep disturbances and insomnia, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Helping workers to recognize these issues will help them learn when to take breaks.
- Plain Language About Shift Work — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue — OSHA
Mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas can transmit bacterial and viral diseases. On sites where these pests seem to reign, give a toolbox talk about vector-borne diseases, safe ways to keep insects at bay, and how to remove ticks from skin and clothing safely.
Near misses and safety stories
Stories resonate with people, so a toolbox talk about workplace incidents can be hugely impactful. Get creative with the stories you tell — perhaps you talk about an incident that happened on site recently, or maybe you share a highly publicized near miss. Whichever direction you choose, you’ll find some stories that will hit close to home for your crew.
- Near Misses: Identify and Eliminate Hazardous Workplace Conditions with Proper Training — Construction Business Owner
- Real Life Workplace Safety Stories — TriMedia Environmental & Engineering
The cost of accidents
Much like near misses and safety stories, talking about the cost of accidents can help workers view safety in a different light. Your crew cares about their personal well-being, but it’s likely that they also care about your business’s financial health. Talking about the cost of accidents can have a significant impact on the way your workers operate.
- Business Case for Safety and Health — OSHA
- Hidden Cost of Accidents — WCF Insurance
Especially crucial for road construction workers, a quick refresher on traffic control can mean the difference between inadvertently causing an accident and keeping traffic moving smoothly. In your talk, review signage basics, hand signals, and radio communication protocol.
- Work Zone Traffic Safety — OSHA Fact Sheet
- Utility Work Zone Traffic Control — WorkSafetyZone.org
- How to Safely Regulate Traffic in Michigan — MDOT Training Video via YouTube
If it’s a busy work season, chances are the streets are full of people. Workers in densely populated areas can always use a reminder about the rules of the road, including pedestrian right-of-way.
- Work Zone Traffic Safety — OSHA Fact Sheet
- Pedestrian and Crosswalk Laws in All 50 States — Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C.
Workplace housekeeping might not be an obvious choice for a toolbox talk, but that doesn’t minimize its importance. A clean job site is a safe worksite, and workers occasionally need to be reminded of their responsibilities
- Construction Site Housekeeping Checklist — Hanover Insurance Group
- Standard 1926.25 – Housekeeping — OSHA
Tripping can lead to injuries like twisted ankles or torn up palms and knees that require first aid. This toolbox topic should cover how to properly eliminate or mark tripping hazards and proper footwear for the job.
- Slips, Trips, and Falls Safety Training in the Construction Industry — Safety Skills
- Safety Footwear at Construction Sites — OSHA
Just about everyone carries a cell phone these days, but that doesn’t mean workers should be using their phones on a job site. Cell phone distraction is extremely dangerous. The National Safety Council says there is “no safe way to use a cell phone and drive,” even hands-free, so take this advice to heart on a construction site.
Present a toolbox talk about your company’s protocols concerning cell phone usage while operating heavy equipment, driving, and any other activities that require undivided attention.
- Safe Cell Phone Usage — Construction Center of Excellence
- Mobile Devices – A Dangerous Distraction on Construction Sites — Infrastructure Health & Safety Association
Inexperience coupled with a lack of training makes young workers especially vulnerable to workplace accidents. Don’t let young workers become accustomed to unsafe habits. Bring everyone together for a toolbox talk that emphasizes the importance of leading by example, consistently following basic safety protocols, and sharing professional know-how. The subject can help bridge experience gaps with your crew.
Ergonomics isn’t just for the office — it carries over into industrial settings as well. If your workers are operating power tools for hours each day, industrial ergonomics is an excellent topic to cover. Repeated awkward motions required for power tool usage can cause long-term injuries.
- Strains, Sprains and Material Handling Safety Tips for Employers and Workers — OSHA’s Alliance Program
- Simple Solutions, Ergonomics for Construction Workers — CDC
Prolonged exposure to high noise levels can cause hearing damage. Exploring this topic can help educate your workers about noises that are loud enough to be considered an occupational hazard. Covering what personal protective equipment can help reduce the risk of inner ear injury can be beneficial as well.
- Protecting Yourself From Noise in Construction — OSHA Pocket Guide
- Noise in Construction — EHS Today
Need some more ideas on how to give your safety culture a boost? Check out our article on Simple Safety Solutions.