Frequent tailgate safety sessions will help ensure your crews make it home healthy and happy every night.

Whether you are required to hold them or not, safety meetings are critical to protecting your workers and your company from the many risks encountered in the field, shop, vehicles and yards every day.

“We have to counteract the contractor’s desire to get the job done,” says Joel Levitt, author and director of international projects at Life Cycle Engineering. “The goal of safety meetings is to increase people’s consciousness.”

For the last 30 years, Levitt has provided training in the maintenance and engineering fields for more than 3,000 organizations in 25 countries. He has written more than 150 articles and 10 books on the topics around maintenance management. His latest book is 10 Minutes a Week to Great Meetings.

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Q: How often should people hold safety meetings, and how much time do we need to deliver the messages?

Levitt: It depends on your goal. What I’m most interested in is people not getting hurt.
It’s not unreasonable to have a safety moment every day. It could be one or two minutes. Some companies, when they have any meeting, they always have a safety moment.

A lot of times we’ll do just a five- or 10-minute toolbox meeting in the morning; nothing real elaborate. If you’re going to cover a bigger topic, it might be a half-hour or an hour with a PowerPoint presentation.

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Or it could be a single-point lesson during a toolbox meeting before going to work in the morning. Fatigue is a common cause of accidents: When you are tired there is more of a chance of injury. Ergonomics would be another, how to pick up something correctly: keeping your back straight, using your legs, not bending over your center of gravity.

Contractors have a unique situation compared to the in-house people. Every single day they are facing a different set of hazards because of the different locations. So they want to get the team together to discuss what’s going on at that site. Take five minutes to look at the hazards like slippery surfaces, construction going on around them, the position of cranes and heavy lifts, and overhead power lines.

New guys get hurt all the time, but the other big group is those who have 15 or 20 years of experience who have a momentary lapse in judgment. That’s what we’re trying to help them with. You want to keep reinforcing to make sure it’s in people’s minds when they go to work. My concern is that people are thinking and participating in meetings, so you have to make it fun, interesting and get people’s attention.

Q: Do you have suggestions for developing meeting ideas and materials?

Levitt: OSHA has some really great material for safety meetings that you can just snatch from their website ( There are literally enough topics there to last a year.

Here are some topics I recommend in my book 10 Minutes a Week to Great Meetings:

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  • Behavioral safety
  • Confined space
  • Disease prevention
  • Electrical hazards
  • Ergonomics
  • Hearing conservation
  • Ladders
  • Hazard communications: Hazcom, MSDS sheets, labeling and the like
  • Lifting toolbox: Topics about lifting and general back care
  • PPE (personal protective equipment)
  • Seasonal toolbox topics dealing with seasonal issues or holiday awareness
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Fatigue

The meeting could even include home hazards and driving hazards.

Q: Some of those are very important to the sewer and drain cleaning industry. How often should key topics like confined space be reviewed?

Levitt: You can do it every couple of months, maybe cover a different aspect of it each time. The one story that got my attention is the guy who bent over to pick up a tool and collapsed. The guy standing next to him, thinking he’s having a heart attack, bends over to help him and he collapses. It turned out there was a chest-high level of carbon monoxide, so as long as they were standing up they were fine.

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They did oxygen sensing at head level. If they had done it up and down their entire body they would have known there was a problem and accommodated it. A lot of people don’t know you have to do that, so using oxygen sensors correctly would be a good single-point lesson.

Operational experience is not helpful if you don’t know the things behind it. People get hurt by all kinds of crazy stuff. Telling those types of stories is useful.

Q: Larger companies are required to keep safety training records. Should every company do that whether or not they are required to provide training?

Levitt: I would keep a log of the topics so you know what you are covering and what to use for planning your next meetings. Sessions should be held on company time and cover the hazards that your organization faces. You should also keep a record of who is in attendance. For those covered by OSHA rules, hazard communications training is required once a year.

Q: Do you have tips about planning an effective meeting?

Levitt: The biggest single problem we see is that nobody knows what the meeting is about; why are we having this meeting? A lot of times, management will call meetings to make a decision they have already made. If you do that too often, people catch on really fast. The appearance of soliciting opinions and actually soliciting opinions are different.

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