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What Do Turkeys and Safety Track Records Have in Common?

November 21, 2017
Risk Management

As a professional safety consultant, I get to go to all kinds of jobsites and see firsthand how many different work processes occur. Innocently, I often ask supervisors why a process is being done a certain way, and I am usually met with one of two very defensive answers: “This is how we have always done it!”, or “We have never had an accident doing it this way!”.

One thing that I've learned about organizational safety is that if a company assumes that the future will be exactly like the past, there are bound to be problems. It’s easy to fall into this way of thinking, after all, we usually believe what we see. I'm reminded of the ‘Great Turkey Fallacy’ whenever this situation arises.

On a hypothetical farm, there are two kinds of poultry - chickens and turkeys. They live separately, but can see each other’s pens. The turkeys live very privileged and pampered existences. They are fed regularly and allowed to mature and get plump. The only down-side to life, is they must endure the horrible sight and sounds of the common chickens being removed one by one, day after day, never to return.

The turkeys feel safe - after all, they're not chickens, and no turkeys have ever been seen being removed by the farmer. This routine carries on 100, 200, 300 days...but in late October, something changes for the turkeys.

The story illustrates that a good track record does not necessarily mean anything. If your company has been doing something the same way for a long time it’s possible that your proverbial Thanksgiving Day is on the horizon. Take the time to look at your common practices and see if they make sense, you just might save your organization’s neck!

Josh Densberger

Josh began his career as a Firefighter for the Orange County Fire Rescue Department in Florida. He taught the principles of fire science and safety at Seminole State College. He held the position of Corporate Safety Director at Waste Pro, and is currently Corporate Safety Manager at MSE Group. Josh earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from The University of Wyoming and a Master’s degree in Fire and Emergency Management from Oklahoma State University.

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