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Toolbox Talk - Lateral Thinking and Safety

Max People Health & Safety Bulletin

Lateral thinking is the ability to use your imagination to look at a problem in a fresh way and come up with a new solution.

How does this apply to safety?

Lateral thinking has the potential to broaden our natural step by step thinking so that we can look further and wider to find a different way of doing a task or managing a situation.


  • 1. A café in Arthur's Pass had a problem with snow melting and refreezing in front of the main entrance. This meant the customers and delivery trucks were slipping and sliding all over the place as they tried to get to the front door. The problem-solving team discussed several strategies, all were designed to eliminate either the ice or the water flow that fed it. 
    • Answer: When challenged to think outside the box, they started to re-define the problem. Ice would be ok if it were not in front of the door, after all we are surrounded by ice. The question was asked by one of the team. “What is easier to move, the ice or the entrance?” It turned out that the best solution was to close the old entrance and make a new one around the corner as there was no melt-off or ice.
  • 2. Name an ancient invention still in use in most parts of the world today that allows people to see through walls.
    • Answer: The window.

Discussion Points:

  • Thinking outside of the box can help a team achieve the same goal but in a different and safer way.
  • Review tasks as a group, bounce ideas off each other, think and discuss the safest way to do the job.
  • If we create SWM’s (Safe Work Method Statements) as a group, we have everyone’s knowledge and thinking on tap.
  • Think of constructive and effective ways to deal with hazards, act where we can, and always report.
  • Provide solutions rather than problems.
  • Be proactive, not reactive.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge the ’norm’. Just because it always been done a certain way does not mean it is the best or safest way to do it.
Food for thought:

A man built a rectangular house, each side having a southern view. He spotted a bear. What colour was the bear?