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How to Run a Manufacturing Safety Meeting

Toby Graham /

Let’s face it: most meetings are a waste of time.

But not manufacturing safety meetings.

Less than an hour every month or every few months can save your manufacturing company hundreds of hours—as well as significant expense and human tragedy—you might otherwise spend responding to a workplace incident. Manufacturing safety problems aren’t cheap.

Effective safety meetings ensure workers, managers, and leadership stay safe, informed, and aligned on current workplace priorities. As such, these meetings are an essential component of any manufacturing safety program—as important as training employees, keeping equipment in working order, and performing audits and inspections. Moreover, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration expects you to conduct safety meetings on a regular basis.

To put it another way, if you’re not engaging in safety meetings or running them effectively, you’re putting your employees and your bottom line at risk. It’s one of the basics of manufacturing safety and compliance.

Here’s what you need to know about running manufacturing safety meetings, from safety topics to discuss to the format of safety meetings, OSHA requirements for safety meetings, and how many safety meetings to have per year:

Why Are Safety Meetings Important?

Manufacturing safety meetings serve multiple purposes for your company, your safety program, and your workforce.

  1. Safety meetings shape your overall environment, health, and safety program. A well-functioning EHS program doesn’t just come into existence on its own. It takes strategic planning and development—the creation of policies and controls, as well as the assignment of projects, roles, responsibilities, and follow-through. These conversations can happen during safety meetings.
  2. Safety meetings drive awareness of key safety topics. You can’t rely on annual safety training alone to keep your people safe, healthy, and productive at work. You might run a safety meeting to address a timely concern, for instance, or prevent a negative trend (such as increasing workforce injury rates) from continuing further.
  3. Safety meetings help you control your workplace safety budget and resources. Too many industrial safety programs flounder because organizations fail to allocate their limited resources effectively or keep things optimized. The program is frequently a patchwork of disparate, disorganized processes and outdated systems. Maybe there are siloes or bottlenecks that impede program function or adoption. A safety meeting is the perfect venue to uncover and address problems like these.
  4. Safety meetings ensure everyone has a voice in your safety program. The best way to get every member of your organization on board with safety is to ask them for their input. Safety meetings give you the opportunity to hear directly from your workforce about their issues, challenges, and ideas.

Examples of Manufacturing Safety Meeting Conversations

To get a little more specific, here are a few tangible examples of the kinds of discussions that take place at manufacturing safety meetings:

  • “We had 11 falls last quarter. Let’s take a close look at our fall protection procedures and make sure everyone is doing their job safely.”
  • “With wildfire season right around the corner, it’s time to have a discussion about wildfire safety and smoke exposure. We’re going to watch a short video, go over what you need to know, break into groups for an activity, and then open the floor for questions.
  • “Our team in Houston is showing better safety and compliance scores than the team here in San Diego. Let’s take a look at what they’re doing and find out how we can catch up.”
  • “As many of you know, we’re looking to recruit more forklift drivers. I wanted to use this opportunity to make sure our forklift training is top of mind, introduce you to some new procedures, and answer any questions you might have.”
  • “I’ve heard concerns from safety managers that they’re losing time running upstairs to their desks and grabbing paperwork whenever there’s an accident. Let’s review our current procedures, act out an accident, and find out if there’s any way we can simplify accident response.”

Safety Meetings vs. Toolbox Talks: What’s the Difference?

A safety meeting is not the same thing as a “toolbox talk.”

A toolbox talk is an informal and usually very short (5–10-minute) conversation about a particular hazard—usually one that pertains to a project people are currently working on. Supervisors typically conduct toolbox talks once a week, or before each day or shift, to draw attention to something people will be facing that week, day, or shift. A supervisor might even choose the topic based on what they’re observing or thinking about in the moment.

Safety meetings are more formal than toolbox talks, and typically longer. They may comprise several formats—such as interactive training, activities, and a Q&A—rather than just a short conversation. Thus, they need to be developed ahead of time, and workers should be aware that they’re coming, as they require some time commitment and the audience’s full attention.

Safety Meetings: What, When, and How Many

How often should you conduct safety meetings? The answer comes down to the needs and realities of your workforce.

Some manufacturers conduct safety meetings once every three months; others conduct them every month or even multiple times per month. If you’re seeing increased accident rates and your safety program isn’t performing well, you likely need to increase the frequency of your safety meetings.

But keep in mind that too many meetings can disrupt your operations and cause workers to tune out. Safety meetings likely can’t turn things around by themselves. It’s important to optimize other pieces of your safety program, such as training and reporting, in tandem.

In general, the content, duration, and frequency of safety meetings are largely up to you. While OSHA strongly encourages you to hold safety meetings, the federal agency doesn’t have specific requirements for most employers about the format of those meetings.

That said, many state OSHA programs do have specific rules in place. And regardless of where you operate, an inspector would likely consider a lack of safety meetings a red flag. (To learn about your state OSHA requirements and prepare your organization in advance of an inspection, contact us.)

Common Safety Meeting Topics in the Manufacturing Industry

As for what the safety meetings should cover, it depends on the issues and risk your workers face.

In any case, it’s a good idea to start with the most frequently violated OSHA standards in the manufacturing industry:

  1. Machine Guarding
  2. Lockout/Tagout
  3. Hazard Communication
  4. Respiratory Protection
  5. Electrical Wiring Methods

Other Common Manufacturing Safety Topics

  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Fall Protection
  • Conveyor Safety
  • Fire Prevention
  • Hot Metal Hazards
  • Chemical Spills and Leaks
  • Hazardous Waste Management
  • Preventing Lacerations
  • Mobile Equipment Safety

See more in KPA’s training library.

Best Practices for Running Safety Meetings

Focus on one issue at a time. The most effective safety meetings are the most simple and direct. Don’t try to educate your workforce on the entire safety program at once. Emphasize one important issue during every safety meeting.

Not too long, not too short. An ideal length of time for a manufacturing safety meeting is 20–45 minutes. Any longer than that and you’ll start to lose the audience’s attention. Any shorter and you may not be able to discuss the issue in sufficient depth.

Involve your employees. Your workers aren’t just the audience for your safety meetings—they should also take part in making the meetings happen. Ask employees for topic suggestions. Collect questions before the meeting. Have a member of your team give a demonstration, tell a story, or lead a discussion. These practices will ensure the meetings are relevant and specific to the people they need to reach.

Make it interesting. Safety meetings can and should be fun. Try out a variety of media and approaches. Why not have employees role-play or engage in a simulated safety scenario? Humor goes a long way as well, but be sure it’s appropriate to the topic, and use it to draw attention to your message rather than distract from it.

Document everything. Make sure to record the relevant details of every safety meeting: when it happened, what it was about, who led it, which employees attended, and what activities attendees engaged in. This will help you track the results so you can improve future safety meetings and other elements of your safety program, such as training. It also gives you material to present to an OSHA inspector or other regulatory authority interested in your safety program.

Tap into industry expertise. Manufacturing safety and compliance experts, like the ones here at KPA, can help you plan, design, and conduct effective safety meetings. Leverage our experience, powerful software, and award-winning training to bring your safety meetings to the next level—and bring your incident rates down to zero.

Don’t waste your organization’s resources and your employees’ time on unengaging, ineffectual safety meetings anymore. Save lives, time, and money with KPA’s manufacturing safety and compliance solutions. Ask us what we can do for you.

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