Tool Box Talk

On one hand it makes perfect sense. If you work safely, over time, this is something that should be rewarded. Many, many companies provide a safety-incentive for no/low work place injuries.  However, there is a downside, which some people have discovered:  If you reward people for being safe, there is a possibility they won’t tell you if something isn’t safe. It’s called a reporting bias, or selective reporting.

Unfortunately this bias is exactly the opposite of what the best companies do. The best companies report every little thing (every incident). People who scrutinize the numbers can tell you for every accident that occurs, there are usually 100 little incidents which occurred prior to the accident. The reporting of incidents is the best indicator for future accidents. (aka, catch phrase: leading indicators)

A really cool example of this is Google Dengue Trends. Dengue is a mosquito-spread virus. Google looks at search words and, over time & many data points, can actually see people where the fever is spreading. An article in Science & Tech (June, 2001 Graham Smith) “Google launches Dengue Trends tool to help doctors track spread of deadly fever

So how do you motivate people to report an unsafe act?

Here are some ideas:

  • Pre task planning & post task wrap-up (downside: can be a lot of paperwork)
  • Check the first-aid safety box for what’s being used
  • Encouraging open communication
  • Spies (not my favorite)
  • Follow up on any report of near miss (by management within a certain time frame)
  • Reward the reporting of incidents
  • Make it easy, safe, convenient, rewarding, honorable, and validating

Or, maybe you should ask the opposite question: What would motivate someone NOT to tell you? In construction, it is common practice to provide a bonus at the end of a project based upon various factors. This most definitely includes profitability, but it can also include safety. If you didn’t hurt anyone on the project, you SHOULD be rewarded. (or, at least be given a pat on the back). Here’s a case of someone who really got it backwards: A former safety manager at the Shaw Group (formerly Stone & Webster Construction) falsified records.

I had the opportunity to attend a construction safety award presentation and listen to various commercial construction companies (GC, and Specialty Contractors) explain why their company deserved an award. Owners, CEOs, Safety Directors, and Employees spoke about their company. Their stories were amazing. Below I have listed some of the ideas that inspired me. They may not, at first glace, appear to be amazing. However, consider when the CEO tells a story that makes him cry, or when a superintendent explains how he is part of a family,…. it makes the words ring different.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Safety really starts at the top. It’s not a priority, it’s a core value. Check out the Injury Free Forum (IIF).
    • This is basically a club/meeting for CEOs to gather and talk about how to prevent injuries. It’s ‘almost’ an invite-only type of event. But, if you’re a CEO/President you should think about it. (helps if you live in the NE part of the US)
    • Here are some companies participating, Gilbane, Gilbane video (yep, it’s good), JMJ Associates, Baker Concrete video
  • During initial employee orientation;
    • one company has each employee write a letter to their family saying (apologizing) why they are gone/dead. This really emphasizes to each individual why they need to work safe.
    • the CEO gives each new employee his business card and tell them to call him directly if they are asked to do something unsafe.
    • each new employee is assigned a mentor (the time period varies from 2 weeks to 1 month) to watch them work safely.
  • Each employee has the right to stop work due to safety. If they do it: the CEO/President writes them a personal thank you note.
  • Make each near miss a incident, but do NOT have a lot of paperwork, just simple documentation for future learning.
  • Have a innovative idea challenge at your company for good safety ideas.
    • Put a bar code on infrequently used tools. Link to a short video which explains how to use it.
    • Zip tie PPE onto the tools upon checkout.
  • Send your “Safety Incident” or “Safety Summary” to their home. Ask them to put it on their fridge. Then, run a contest. Randomly find a name & call that employee to see if they can tell you what the safety topic is. Give a prize. Repeat.
  • Look at the design. A large GC mandated that every hole in their project have safety netting installed during the concrete pour. …and they did it!
  • An electrical firm uses no knives. None. Think that helps cut down on injuries? (pun intended)

The goal is zero injuries. So, what happens after zero injuries? How about sending your spouse to work…and they come home healthier! It’s not far away for some companies, Health & Wellness programs are already being implemented. For whom are you working? Here’s one of my reasons:

live work

As common as it sounds, falls in construction are still the #1 killer.

Go to

This site has good information, reminders, training, and resources.

How much information should be contained in your written safety programs? There isn’t a right answer, but here are my suggestions and thoughts.

Have two “levels” of programs.

Corporate Safety Programs

  • This type should contain the general overview of the safety at the company. It should speak to the concern that the company has to the safety of the employees.  ie. “we don’t want you to get hurt, so…”
  • No details. For example,  an Asbestos Policy statement – “As a company we anticipate that we may encounter asbestos onsite. We train our employees in identifying suspected asbestos containing material (ACM) and subcontract any work where we may disturb potential ACM. “
  • Employees should be trained from the Corporate Safety Policies (initially, annually, or periodically thereafter).
  • Establishing these programs should take a lot of thought, consideration, and buy-in from management and leadership.
  • Do NOT make a policy that you do not plan on keeping. If you are going to occasionally do something which is a direct contradiction to your policy – don’t make it a policy. I know, simple in theory, but…

Site Specific Programs

  • These types of programs should contain the details. Who, what, when, where, how.
  • Only include the policies that you have at the jobsite- otherwise don’t have this policy on file in the trailer.
  • Cut and paste the policies you need for this specific job – from your corporate program list.
  • Another example, from the asbestos policy, “on XXX project we have identified asbestos in the blue and green 9×9″ floor tiles to contain 5%asbestos. ABC Abatement Company will abate and remove any asbestos found. If additional materials of this size, shape, color are found, please notify the superintendent immediately”.
  • Perform tool-box talks from your site specific programs. These programs should have enough detail that your Project Engineer could read it to the employees and have enough information.