In 2008, Walmart stock clerk Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death at a WalMart store when a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors to take advantage of an after-Thanksgiving Day Black Friday sales event. OSHA cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management following the Nov. 28, 2008, death of the employee at its Valley Stream, N.Y., store. The worker died of asphyxiation after he was knocked to the ground and trampled by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers who surged into the store.
Since then, federal agencies, business owners and consumers have become increasingly aware of the dangers associated with holiday shopping. This winter, business owners are urged to proactively consider ways to make in-store sales events a safe, cheerful and rewarding experience for all who attend. Follow the tips below to learn how thoughtful anticipation of weather, crowds, and an event management strategy can make all the difference this winter.
Weather Predictions for Winter 2015-16
Safety plans are most effective when specific threats are identified. Once understood, these threats can be planned for and neutralized. When planning for winter safety, experts at the Weather Channel provide insight and tips that can help business owners form a successful safety strategy. Taking time to review winter weather predictions also can add the context needed to prioritize specific investments in new safety products, program development, employee training and other safety initiatives.
Below are the top 5 weather predictions for winter 2015-16 from Weather.com:
1. Southern states will see a cooler-than-average winter, while the opposite will be true for northern states.
2. Southern states will be wetter than average, an increase in precipitation that may fall as freezing rain or sleet when temperatures begin to drop.
3. In addition to El Nino, two other phenomena that are expected to shape this winter’s weather patterns include Arctic Oscillation and Madden-Julian Oscillation. The former is known to impact the number of arctic air masses that push nor’easters along the Northeast, while the latter has the ability to increase heavy rainstorms in the Pacific Northwest.
4. Although minor drought relief is expected in central and southern California, drought conditions are expected to persist in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies.
5. Storms still are unpredictable. Despite weather outlook and predictions, meteorologists at the Weather Channel caution, “We don’t know when or where it could get ugly.”
Perhaps most important to remember is No. 5 above. Business owners are urged to monitor local weather reports to ensure maximum awareness of changing weather and associated threats, particularly during the busiest shopping days of the year.
Busiest Shopping Days of 2015
After taking a moment to review predictions for regional weather conditions, business owners can tighten safety strategies by zeroing-in on the busiest shopping days of the year. Identifying these days offers a threefold advantage. First, business owners can structure sales and promotions to take advantage of the days when shoppers are most likely to be out and actively trafficking stores. Using the same predictions, businesses also may launch online sales to appeal to customers on days when in-store shopping is expected to be slowest.
Most importantly, knowing which days likely will be the busiest of the season enables business owners to make all appropriate preparations to ensure larger-than-average crowds are handled safely and amicably by staff.
Below is a prediction for the busiest days of the 2015 holiday shopping season, as predicted in by ShopperTrak:
- November 27th
- December 19th
- December 26th
- December 12th
- November 28th
- December 20th
- December 5th
- December 21st
- December 13th
- November 29th
Form a Crowd Management Strategy
OSHA has urged retailers to take the time to adopt a crowd management plan. OSHA offers the a full spectrum of tips https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/Crowd_Control.html to assist business owners in preparing for large and often unruly crowds. This year, shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Tex., got into fights over flatscreen televisions. Are you prepared for something like that?
OSHA has grouped specific tasks into four distinct categories to help avoid emergency situations like rioting customers and employee injuries. These include planning, pre-event setup, during the sales event and emergency situations.
- Planning – This is perhaps the most crucial stage of the preparation process. Using the information above, you can already begin planning for inclement weather and busier-than-average shopping days. OSHA recommends taking things a step further by anticipating crowd sizes, staffing employees to monitor each point of entrance and exit, designating personnel to make key decisions when emergencies arise, and alerting local fire and police agencies to ensure events meet all state and local safety requirements.
- Pre-event setup – Next, insights gathered from the Planning stage are to be implemented during event setup. Specifically, OSHA recommends use of barricades, crowd control stanchions, and ropes to control crowds. These tools can be used to achieve a number of goals, like limiting the number of customers who may enter the store, directing customers to specific sales areas once in-store, and routing customers into line queues for check-out and customer service. OSHA goes on to make many more recommendations, several of which focus on designating specific employees to perform important tasks, including communicating with customers, regulating customer flow, and reporting emergency situations.
- During the sales event – Safety takes on added importance during the sales event, as this it the time when unexpected incidents can cause serious injury. OSHA recommends providing a separate entrance for employees to make sure teams can easily assemble throughout the duration of the event. It is also recommended that communication take priority among all employees while the event is happening, particularly when doors are about to first open. Additionally, business owners—and the employees they charge with monitoring customer in-flow–must take care to limit entrants so maximum store capacity is never exceeded.
- Emergency situations – As the adage reminds us, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Anticipating emergency situations is a vital part of hosting a successful holiday sales event. OSHA recommends keeping exits clear at all times, maintaining a current and accessible first aid kit and having an automated external defibrillator, and instructing employees to comply with authorized first responders (e.g. EMTs, firemen, etc.) should they be called for any reason.
About the Author: Elizabeth Ira is a safety consultant for Eagle Mat and Floor Products, a Maryland-based company. Eagle Mat is engaged in the sale and rental of matting, safety flooring and other products that help businesses deliver the highest quality of service to clients, customers and employees.