Overview of Toolbox Talks on Ergonomics Developed by Washington University in St. Louis

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Washington University - St. Louis

Summary Statement

This overviews provides a background on how Washington University in St. Louis developed this series of six toolbox talks on ergonomics. It also describes how they tested the effectiveness of these communication tools, concluding that the guide was valuable for improving the delivery of ergonomics training and interaction between the safety representative and workers. The researchers recommend preparing site-specific information prior to the talk and interacting with workers to discuss problems and ergonomic solutions during the safety meetings.

Background of the Project

Tool box talks (TBTs) have been described as “missed opportunities” for providing important safety messages. During a three year study of ergonomics in construction trades, Washington University (WU) researchers developed a guide (Tool Box TIPS – Training Injury Prevention Strategies) for safety representatives to lead meaningful, interactive ergonomics TBTs. The guide is designed for the safety representative to tailor TBTs to the work crew’s current worksite and tasks, lead discussions to identify problems that may lead to injuries, and with worker input identify solutions to those problems.


Testing of the Tool Box Talk Guide

We modified detailed ergonomics training from a study of ergonomic interventions with floor layers, sheet metal workers and carpenters into a TBT format. We tested the following six brief TBTs during construction of a mixed residential building with the help of the general contractor’s safety representative, a union carpenter who was certified in safety.

Prior to each 15 minute, weekly safety meeting, the safety representative reviewed the TBT guide, walked the job site, and took notes on specific training points. For a few meetings, he took photos of workers performing a problem and solution to share with the group as examples. Carpenters and laborers, the site superintendent, and project manager from the general contractor, and a WU researcher attended the safety meetings. Laminated training cards were handed out to workers each week and were to be compiled together on a spring clip / keychain for future reference.

Content, Delivery and Usability Testing

Our study protocol was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board at WU and all subjects gave their consent to participate. Workers filled out a survey post-training to provide their feedback on the TBT content, delivery and usability. The safety representative provided weekly feedback on the content of the talks and usability. During the TBTs a researcher took notes on the site specific ergonomic actions presented by the safety representative. A list of ergonomic actions presented during the TBTs was compiled for the contractor representatives (i.e. safety director, safety representative, project engineer, site superintendent) to review and provide their feedback during a focus group style meeting at the conclusion of the series of TBTs.


Over the six week series of TBTs, the average number of attendees was 36 workers and average duration of each TBT was 13 minutes. Seventy percent of the workers were carpenters who performed shoring and drywall tasks and the other 30% of workers were laborers. On average, workers had been in the trades for 14 years.

The safety representative felt the TBTs were easy to review and prepare 10 minutes prior to the meeting, liked the format of the guide, was able to personalize the talk based on the guide, and felt the information was the right amount and applied to the work. On follow-up surveys completed after the series of TBT, workers agreed the information applied to their job, felt comfortable participating, felt the TBT format was better than their regular safety talks, and would recommend the training to others. Workers also felt they could make changes to their job due to the TBTs and planned to try new tools or change work technique to reduce their risk of injury. The contractor representatives verified that some of the ergonomic suggestions presented during the TBTs were used by workers following training . After learning the results of the study the general contractor shared the TBT guides company-wide with all of their safety representatives for future use.


The WU ergonomics TBT guide is valuable for improving the delivery of ergonomics training and interaction between the safety representative and workers. Preparing site specific information prior to the talk and interacting with workers to discuss problems and ergonomic solutions maximizes the opportunity for worker engagement during these important safety meetings.