Increasing Safety and Health in Construction with Toolbox Talks

Author: Rene Garcia

construction safety

With spring many months away, it’s a good use of downtime to review safety procedures and how on-site training is handled. This is especially important in the construction industry, which usually lies dormant during winter, but also has a relatively high rate of fatalities during its normal season. Organizations should take this opportunity to create new processes and plan a safe and healthy 2019.

It’s no secret that construction industry job sites can be some of the most hazardous around. When several workers are exposed to industrial machinery, varying elevations, heavy building materials, and more, the chances of an injury or fatality increase dramatically. As such, the following areas were identified as opportunities for workforce training:

  1. Preventing falls from roofs
  2. Preventing falls from extension ladders
  3. Preventing deaths from improper tool use
  4. Preventing falls from equipment or loads (forklifts)
  5. Preventing falls through holes in roofs and floors
  6. Preventing electrocutions: overhead power lines and boom cranes
  7. Preventing deaths from crushing: building materials
  8. Preventing deaths from skid-steer loaders

One popular training method is to employ “toolbox talks”. Typically, these talks consist of short, 10- to 15-minute training sessions regarding potential dangers related to the workers’ jobs. Because these types of trainings are quick and low-cost, smaller organizations usually employ toolbox talks, but they can still be effective as ad hoc training for any sized construction business.

Recently, toolbox talks were included as part of research on their efficacy. The researches discovered that toolbox talks that included a narrative and involved the workers were the most effective. So, trainers should consider telling a story from “a former job site” and then ask workers about their experiences with that kind of incident. For example, have they witnessed a fall? Have they fallen themselves? What could have been done differently to prevent that injury? Solutions to these questions could then be employed on the current job site.

A broader approach to safety would be to use the Hierarchy of Control. Training will always have a place in safety measures, but if the hazard can be controlled before involving the worker, then that should be the first step. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the first level in the hierarchy is elimination. If the hazard can be removed entirely, then that’s the best option. Failing that, the second control is substitution. If the hazard can be swapped out for something non-hazardous, then that solution works just as well. Beyond that is engineering. Some kind of protection must be built for the worker to separate them from the hazard. Then there’s administration. Rules are created for workers on how to avoid or handle the hazard. This is typically where training lies. Finally, there’s personal protective equipment. The higher on the Hierarchy of Control a construction company can be, the safer the job site will be for its workers.

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