Toolbox Talks


This is the third post in a series of 25. Each post will be dealing with a shipboard work related issue and how to cope with it. Previous articles in the series has been about:

  • No. 1 – Safe Manual Handling
  • No. 2  – Preventing Slip, Trips and falls



The term “Toolbox talks” (TBT) relates to a formal or informal meeting just before work begin on any significant task that involves a hazard or a risk.

TBT’s are used  to transfer information between people. They are effective because they use face to face communication. It is known that when people using their voices, their facial expressions and their hands, this will help to get the message across.

The TBT converts the information in the Risk Assessment into action, and is therefore the last step in the Risk Assessment process.

It is also often the last opportunity there is to confirm that control measures are working, and that any concerns are addressed.

Good TBT are a skill, a skill that must be practiced by both supervisor and team.

TBT’s are simple to carry out and they work, they to protect people from harm. An TBT could be formal or informal, but it is the content of the talk that is most important, not the paperwork.

A TBT must never be a long boring lecture on the task, it should be short conversations that are relevant, brief and focused on the task ahead.

A TBT is not a speach!


What is the problem?

If not everyone involved in a task have a full and clear understanding of the subjects stated below, it will increase the risk of a serious accident happens.

  • The scope of the task ahead;
  • The hazards and risks involved;
  • The key risk controls and mitigations in place;
  • The roles and responsibilities;
  • The required actions for safe operation.

TBT is a tool to assure that the above subjects are covered.


The four basic requirements

A TBT includes four basic requirements:

  • Timing
  • Attendance
  • Observing
  • Knowledge


Timing – When should a Toolbox Talk be held?

A TBT should be held just before work begin on any  significant task that involves a hazard or a risk. This ensures that the attention of everyone involved is focused on the importance of safely achieving the task ahead.

The TBT is often the last opportunity there is to confirm that control measures are working, that any concerns we have are addressed, and that any last minute changes are considered.


Attendance – Who should attend the Toolbox Talk?

The most obvious people to attend are all those directly involved in the task. These people must attend.

As far as practicable those affected by the task should also attend.

There are occasions where it might be important that others take part in the TBT, these might include client rep, relevant subcontractors, HSE professionals and line managers.


Observing – What should a Toolbox Talk look at?

There really is no limits on the number of different topics that might be looked at in a series of individual TBT’s.

In most cases however the TBT’s take a detailed look at the task, job or activity about to be undertaken by the team members attending the talk. It might involve discussing a team activity that is a small but vital part of a much larger job where knowledge and understanding by individuals of the bigger picture can greatly enhance overall safety levels.

In every case the supervisor leading the talk must give detailed thought to the topics to be considered, so that the discussion stays on track, and stays firmly focused on the task in hand.

Likely subjects a supervisor wants to cover are described in prompts below.


Objective of Job

Plan and Methods


Manpower and Skills

Access and Evacuation

Work Environment


Permit to Work (PTW)

Person Protective Equipment (PPE)




Conflicting Activities




De-brief or Post-Job Talk

The prompt words overleaf help you to conduct a TBT and if you work through the prompt words carefully – they will help you to complete your job:


Discuss the topics with your team:

– before starting a job

– anytime during a job

– after comleting a job


Knowledge – How do you know the Toolbox Talk was effective?

After a TBT all attendees should have a full and clear understanding of the scope of the task ahead, of the hazards and risks involved, of the key risk controls and mitigation’s in place, of the roles and responsibilities and required actions for safe operations.

The understanding must be amongst the team that the task can be stopped at any time and that safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Consideration of triggers which could potentially stop the job should be discussed during the TBT.

Complacency can be a killer and people can be injured carrying out what might seem to be the simpliest task