OMG - Not the Toolbox Talk !!!!!

Written by
Yvonne Edwards
January 7, 2019

Having worked in construction for about 15 years, I have personally witnessed the inception of the ‘Toolbox Talk’.

I remember the first time I noticed the phrase was when I was applying for CHAS certification in 2009 and was asked to show proof of a toolbox talk carried out with my site operatives. I had to use google to find out what that meant! After I found out what a toolbox talk was, I downloaded a ‘free’one, printed it off and headed to a site.

At that point my aim was to dot the i’s cross the t’s and get my CHAS certification.  

When I got to the site, I gathered my men and we had a conversation about PPE.  It took about 5 mins and at the end of it I asked if there were any questions.  A couple men pointed out that they were missing their safety glasses and a couple others said they’d lost their gloves.We also discussed face masks and if they were really needed when they were mixing up buckets of latex. Back in 2009 there was not the education on silica that is available now, but the COSHH info and risk assessments were clear that they needed to be wearing a face mask/respirator when using that product, so we agreed (albeit informally) that it was probably a good idea to use one.  At the end of the chat, I got the men to sign off that they had been given the talk and I left site, happy in the knowledge that I was one step closer to CHAS.

On the way back to the office I stopped at the local supplier and picked up some PPE supplies – the missing safety glasses and gloves, a couple new hard hats and a box of face masks, which I sent to site the next morning.

That same morning, I submitted the CHAS application (which we got), but I started thinking about the toolbox talk from the day before.  

I’d had a good engaging chat with my guys and I realised that if I hadn’t carried out the toolbox talk, I would still be unaware that they were missing PPE as no one had mentioned it previously – which is a much too often occurrence.   I also started thinking about the mixing of latex and all the dust it created and I was happy that they now had the masks to protect them from inhaling it.  Overall,I had a good feeling as not only had we took steps to protect the men better, but it was done in a casual way where their input had mattered, and they could see that myself (as management) not only cared and was interested, but that things could change quiet easily by the simple communication.  Long story short (well not really short) from that day onward, I have always been an advocate of the toolbox talks, not because they keep me compliant, but because they are simply just an excuse to have a chat with the guys to make sure they are OK and aware of things around them.

Toolbox talks are not formal, there’s no test at the end of it but I personally believe it is the best tool to get workers thinking about their everyday safety.  Working on building sites puts people at a greater risk of danger – that is a fact.  Doing the same task everyday leads to complacency.  A simple task like mixing the latex for 2-3 minutes was done without thinking about it. After the toolbox talk, hopefully every time my worker did that,somewhere in the back of his mind he thought about the face mask and used it.  Being armed with information and choosing to ignore it, is very different than just not being aware or remembering something that you were previously taught.

From my experience health and safety has a bad rap - unfortunately there is still the mindset that its the enemy, it can get you yellow carded or even thrown off site.  You mention health& safety and everyone’s eyes roll and automatically we want to mention things like ‘time wasting’ ‘not necessary’, ‘jobs worth’ and ‘stupid’, but it actually isn’t – when it’s approached right.

At Toolboxit we are trying to make things easier.  

We want to get rid of the time wasting because we have been there, done that and don’t want to keep doing it.  

We want to help show you that it is necessary to remind people to make the smart choice (put the mask on and protect your lungs = potentially live longer!).  

We want everyone to understand that yes, health and safety can be viewed as just an exercise for management, but underlying it is the need to keep people safe.  

Regards to tasks linked to health & safety being labelled stupid – as Forest Gump states, stupid is as stupid does.  It can never be stupid to care about your workers or for them to care about their own health and well-being, so 5 minutes of everyone’s time surely is worth it?

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