This year marks the fifth year anniversary of the death of a worker killed upon opening a large store for an after-Thanksgiving Day Black Friday sales event at a Walmart location. In 2008, the worker was trampled to death when shoppers rushed through the store entrance to take advantage of the holiday sales.
Retailers can avoid similar tragedies through crowd management and safety precautions and OSHA is encouraging retail employers to take precautions to prevent workplace injuries during major sales events, including Black Friday.
“The busy shopping season should not put retail workers at risk of being injured or killed,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “OSHA urges retailers to take the time to adopt a crowd management plan and follow a few simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm to retail employees.”
OSHA sent letters to major retailers as well as retail and fire associations nationwide reminding employers and fire chiefs about the potential hazards involved with large crowds at retail stores during the holiday season when sales events attract a higher number of shoppers. Retailers are encouraged to use the safety guidelines provided in the OSHA fact sheet they received, “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers,” in addition to their own procedures. They also were reminded to maintain appropriate access to exit routes and ensure that exits are not blocked.
According to OSHA, crowd management plans should, at the least, include:
- On-site trained security personnel or police officers.
- Barricades or rope lines for pedestrians that do not start right in front of the store's entrance.
- The implementation of crowd control measures well in advance of customers arriving at the store.
- Emergency procedures in place to address potential dangers.
- Methods for explaining approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public.
- Not allowing additional customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level.
- Not blocking or locking exit doors.
Walmart Cited in 2008 Death of Employee
In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management, concluding an investigation launched after a worker was trampled to death on Nov. 28, 2008, at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y. The worker was knocked to the ground and crushed by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers surging into the store for its annual "Blitz Friday" holiday sales event.
OSHA’s inspection found that the store's workers were at risk of being crushed by the crowd due to the store's failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management practices. Those practices would have provided the store’s workers with the necessary training and tools to safely manage a large crowd of shoppers.
Under its General Duty Clause, OSHA issued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. one serious citation for exposing workers to the recognized hazards of asphyxiation or being crushed by a crowd. The citation carried a proposed fine of $7,000, the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law. A violation is serious when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.
Walmart contested the citation before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, but in March 2009, Chief Administrative Law Judge Covette Rooney the OSHRC upheld the citation and full penalty issued to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
“During the course of OSHA’s investigation, the company implemented crowd control measures storewide, and the National Retail Federation also promoted those practices to its members,” said Michaels at that time. “We praise that action, and urge all retailers to implement crowd management practices ahead of future sales events likely to draw large crowds.”