When you hear the word tailgate, visions of football titans and smoked barbecue may come to mind. But in the construction industry, a tailgate is synonymous with safety. Typically a 15-minute informal safety meeting conducted by a jobsite supervisor, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) requires that tailgate training sessions be conducted once every 10 working days. But making these training sessions useful and relevant isn't always easy. In fact, a generic approach could end up wasting everyone's time.

“It is important to tailor the tailgate trainings and make them jobsite specific, so that they're not talking about working over water hazards if they're working in the desert that week,” says David Harrington, project coordinator for the BuildSafe California project.

The BuildSafe California Project was developed by the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Health Services late in 2001 to educate construction supervisors on how to conduct tailgate training. The project's curriculum is covered in half-day training sessions across California. More than 1,400 people have attended sessions thus far. BuildSafe offers the following recommendations for conducting more effective tailgate training sessions:

Topic relevance. The topic should apply to a safety issue currently faced by the crew. For new ideas, ask employees to suggest topics. When a particular subject is selected, be sure to explain why the topic is timely — such as in response to a recent job-site injury, introduction of a new tool, or revised company policy.

Crew participation. To encourage an interactive atmosphere, pick a good location, use active learning methods as opposed to a lecture format, and tell real-world stories to engage the crew. During the training session, use employees' knowledge of work hazards, ask them to describe the problem, and troubleshoot together.

Following through. Observe work conditions and practices to assure that changes discussed in the tailgate training session are implemented in the field. “You need to focus on some concrete changes so that the crew sees that these are problem-solving sessions,” Harrington says. “If these make their jobs run better, then they will get more invested in them.”

And don't forget to complete a tailgate training documentation form and keep it on file — just in case OSHA officials decide to pay you a visit.

To obtain the Conducting Effective Tailgate Training Safety Break cards in English and Spanish, as well as other construction health and safety resources, go to the OHB Web site at www.dhs.ca.gov/ohb/buildsafe.