When was the last time you presented or participated in a toolbox talk?

Hopefully your answer was “sometime in the last month” at the very least, as staying up to date with safety information is an important aspect of providing quality care.

A wooden toolbox filled with workmen's tools with the text "Toolbox talks are a key part of workplace health and safety."

We’ve borrowed the term ‘toolbox talks' from the construction industry, where an incident could result in serious injury or death. In your organisation they may simply be known as workplace health and safety talks, but whatever you call them they are a great way of reinforcing the basics of safety across your team.

Toolbox Talks are generally described as short, informal safety talks that are designed to raise awareness of potential hazards or risks to staff, clients, and the general public, as well as identifying ways to mitigate those risks. They also prevent complacency around an issue, can provide a refresher for long term staff, and assist everyone in the team to stay up to date with the latest safety information.

Due to multiple shifts within the aged care setting, toolbox talks are often presented to staff as a handout that they are required to read, perhaps on their morning tea or lunch break. My personal preference however, is for toolbox talks to be presented at a staff meeting. This provides a better forum for staff to participate in the discussion and raise any questions relating to the topic; scenarios can be discussed, changes to working conditions identified, and opportunities for the improvement of practices reviewed or reinforced.

What are some of the key aspects of a good toolbox talk?

Make them relevant to the industry

Firstly, make sure that the information that is being presented to staff is relevant to their role and work area. Generally, there is a requirement for staff to attend or complete a toolbox talk each week or month. However, so often the toolbox talks they have to complete are irrelevant to their role, especially if they are working in a larger organisation where aged care is only one aspect of core business. How many aged care staff members need to know about safely working with power tools like saws or jack hammers?

It was because so many of our clients experienced this problem that we developed a series of aged care specific toolbox talks that were more relatable and targeted. Topics included ‘Using a Residual Current Device,’ ‘Protective Footwear’ and ‘Dealing with Pets,’ etc.

Make them specific to the setting and role

Some topics obviously can be more generic and if you have to work with generic information, make sure that you contextualise the information for staff. If you are discussing protective footwear, the footwear in question is obviously going to be different to that of a construction or outdoor worker. Instead of discussing hard-topped boots, you might need to talk about shoe covers when showering a client, or covered non-slip shoes to be worn in the kitchen.

Time the talk to specific seasons

Timing can be important when delivering toolbox talks. Many organisations will time their influenza toolbox talk to coincide with the start of the flu season or heat safety at the start of the hot summer.

It’s a good idea to develop a calendar to pace out your toolbox talks across the year, checking that you are delivering vital information at the relevant time.

Time the talk to emphasise a particular issue or recurring hazard or risk

It’s good practice to review accidents, incidents and near misses as you may be able to spot a trend. If a trend is identified this can indicate that education in the form of a toolbox talk would benefit the team.

Likewise, if you have had a specific incident, such as a staff member falling off a ladder (or chair), take the opportunity to deliver a toolbox talk on working safely with ladders or working at heights to the team.

Keep them short but regular

Toolbox talks should be a regular part of your work practice, but keep them short. They should take you no longer than around 5-10 minutes to deliver, depending on the discussion the topic generates. Think about including them as a regular item in your staff meetings, that way they won’t get overlooked.

Encourage your team to participate in the discussion around the particular issue you are presenting. Asking questions and encouraging discussion helps staff members to explore issues more thoroughly and apply the information to their specific workplace so that they begin to understand concepts more deeply.

Demonstrate where relevant

If needed, get up and move around. If you are looking at a specific piece of equipment then using a ‘show and tell’ method might be more appropriate to demonstrate or deliver a safety message.

Focus on one topic

A toolbox talk focuses on one topic. Try to stay on task when delivering toolbox talks: emphasise and discuss the particular issue rather than getting side tracked and potentially confusing staff or diluting the message with information overload.

Make sure everyone gets the message

Apart from making sure that everyone gets the message by attending toolbox talks, consider the needs of staff where English is not their first language or when working with people with learning difficulties.

Safety messages are relevant and important for all, so use an interpreter where necessary or combine different learning techniques that emphasise your point such as role-playing, using video, and having open discussions about the topic. It’s also a good idea to have a set of basic questions that can be used to gauge whether listeners have understood the information.

Have a written format to follow

Having a suite of toolbox talks written up can really improve the delivery of a safety talk to staff – but don’t just sit there and read it out to them line by line. Having the toolbox talk written up can help you be succinct and cover all points. It can also provide background ‘why’ information that helps staff who are presenting the talk understand the topic better.

Even where staff can’t attend the meeting in person or there are multiple teams and meetings, everyone will get the same information, providing consistency.

You can also incorporate some ‘consideration’ questions to your materials to encourage staff to review the information they have read or listened to. Lastly, it provides the opportunity to have staff sign off that they have attended or read about the topic, giving management a record of delivery.

If you would like access to a set of aged care specific toolbox talks, why not check out the many topics already covered in the CDCS Total Quality Package resource hub. You can also find a free example in our Free Resource Pack that you are welcome to download and use with your team.

If you have a subscription to the Resource Hub, let us know of other topics that you are looking to cover off on and we’ll get those written up and onto the site for you.

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