25 August 2017

Those who commission, design, construct and operate buildings have obligations to control the risks that those using the facilities might reasonably incur both during the construction and operation phases.

Employers are legally (and morally) obliged to provide ‘suitable and sufficient’ health and safety training as stipulated in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, which came into effect in 1994 and were most recently revised in 2015. 

The regulations dictate that employers must ensure that workers are fully aware of the risks and hazards that they face in the working environment. This awareness may take the form of regular briefings, as well as general supervision and monitoring.

Briefings may might be face-to-face (classroom based training, safety briefings or 'toolbox talks' or instruction) or self-directed (where multimedia resources are provided to allow learners to get up to speed at their own space). Regardless of the methodology, the purpose remains - to ensure that the workforce adopt a 'health and safety' culture to keep people safe.

What's the difference between toolbox talks and safety briefings?

The terms ‘toolbox talk’ and 'safety briefing' are often used interchangeably but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes a distinction.

Toolbox talks

The toolbox talk is an informal, short meeting (typically 10 to 15 minutes long) that should focus on a single specific topic, and explore the risks of specific health and safety issues on site and how they may be dealt with. 

Example topics might include:

  • Working at height and the use of equipment like ladders or scaffolding
  • Manual handling 
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Working in confined spaces
  • Personal protective equipment (head, eye or hearing protection etc.)

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 a reoccurring health and safety issue or upcoming changes to regulations and standards.

While the name 'toolbox talk' is derived from the act of physically standing on a toolbox to deliver the address, this is not a requirement. It does, however, make sense for the presenter to find a warm, dry space free of distractions, such as a site office, to aid the meeting’s effectiveness.

Safety briefings

Safety briefings are short talks that detail health and safety hazards that workers will face and should be attended by everyone who will work on the particular site (including sub-contractors and key members of the supply chain).

Such talks are typically delivered by a site supervisor and will be held regularly (often daily) on site, before the start of site access, a particular job or shift, and are likely to be fairly brief (30 minutes maximum) to ensure that attendees are able to give their full concentration to the briefing without attention waning.

Employers must ensure that workers are fully aware of the risks and hazards that they face in the working environment. This awareness may take the form of regular briefings, as well as general supervision and monitoring.

What is the purpose of a safety briefing or toolbox talk?

Both safety briefings and toolbox talks serve as a way to impart key information and knowledge to a wider audience and to check for understanding. The meetings also serve the wider purpose of keeping knowledge up-to-date and helping to spur further conversations on health and safety keeping concerns and mitigation uppermost in the minds of the workforce. Ideally a regular programme of briefings and talks should generate a health and safety culture in the workplace.

What makes for a good safety briefing or toolbox talk? 

As with any other form of presentation the speaker should be striving to deliver content that is interesting and informative in an engaging and memorable way.

A clear structure can really help - being explicit from the outset as to what will be covered, why it is important and detailing what participants will learn, will make the material more easily understood by attendees. Taking some time at the end of the session to summarise key information (including any group discussions) and what the attendee should take away from the presentation, will also help cement what's gone before.

A presentation doesn't have to involve a group being 'spoken at' so consider how you might involve the audience through use of rhetorical questions, group discussions or interactive activities are likely to help cement learning and add interest. Bringing a potentially 'dry' subject to life through real-world examples, particularly topical or timely ones, can help your audience see the relevance and make your material more relatable.

Consider too how you might use whiteboards or flipcharts rather than relying solely on speech or a PowerPoint deck. New technology also offers the opportunity to bring concepts to life - a computer or tablet allows you to add audio, video, animation to a presentation, calling up site drawings, diagrams or examples will undoubtedly help you get your message across. We're also starting to see virtual and augmented reality (with information and examples being superimposed over a real-world view) being used to explore models, spaces and places, allowing for a much more engaging way of understanding what's laid out in front of our eyes.

Where can I find resources to develop briefings and talks?

The Health and Safety Executive have prepared a number of toolbox talks which are freely available online.Topics include manual handling, falls and safe use of ladders and stepladders. The HSE have also produced a leadership in construction toolkit which includes a section aimed at honing communication skills for those delivering safety briefings and toolbox talks.

A Health and Safety Induction 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. 

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) also provide a range of multimedia resources. The book Toolbox Talks (GT 700) has been developed to support site supervisors and managers looking to deliver toolbox talks on building and construction sites.