A Word of Encouragement From OSHA on Black Friday

The press release from OSHA starts out rather discreetly.  In the title, it says, pleasantly enough, that ‘OSHA encourages major retailers to provide crowd management measures’ this Black Friday.  But according to Fred Hosier of, it issued more warning than encouragement with this statement.  He notes, very pointedly, that OSHA has demonstrated that it is most willing to issue fines when crowd control problems affect workers, and it has plenty of money to spend upholding those fines.

Remember back in 2008 when a Wal-Mart employee in Valley Stream, NY, was trampled and killed by a crowd of eager shoppers?  After all was said and done,  OSHA spent $600,000 defending its right to fine Wal-Mart $7,000 for the tragic loss, while Wal-Mart spent $2 million fighting that fine.  Wal-Mart lost.

Here we are, on the eve of 2011’s biggest shopping season, and despite all the legal battling,  along a lingering fear on  behalf of retailers of too much governmental interference in sales and marketing campaigns, Wal-Mart (and others) is continuing to adopt OSHA-recommended measures to prevent another tragedy.  So the warning, disguised as encouragement, may be a bit heavy-handed.  Maybe the store owners are more worried about fines and expensive legal challenges than their customers and that’s why they’re are taking precautions.  No matter.  It’s all good as far as the shopping public is concerned.

These recommendations include the following:

  • Have emergency procedures in place that address potential dangers.
  • Be sure that trained security personnel or police officers install barricades or rope lines for pedestrians and crowd control well in advance of the arrival of any customers.
  • Be sure the barricades are set up so that lines of customers do not start directly in front of a store entrance.
  • Under no circumstances allow customers to enter a store that has reached its maximum occupancy level.
  • Have customer services reps or security personnel on hand to explain entrance procedures to the public.
Further store-specific suggestions include:
  • Eliminating waiting lines by staying open throughout the night, starting at 7 on Thanksgiving Day (Wal-Mart, and others are sure to follow).
  • Using steel barriers instead of plastic ones.
  • Giving people tickets for hot sellers like electronics so they don’t feel compelled to rush and grab items.
  • Using raised platforms from which employees can communicate with shoppers and spot problem areas.
A quick word to the wise.  Keep your wits about you whenever and wherever you shop this holiday season.  Take a moment or two before you plunge in to check out the security measures or crowd control methods used in each store you visit.  Retailers that are concerned about their employees’ safety are likely just as concerned about your safety.  A properly managed and adequately staffed store is a safe store.  It isn’t just about being trampled or shoved about, either.  Thieves of all sorts thrive wherever there are rudely jostling crowds and harried, overworked employees.
Okay.  The lectures are over.  Go forth, and shop!

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