OSHA Cites Wal-Mart Stores Following Crushing Death of Worker

OSHA has cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management following the Nov. 28, 2008, death of an 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 for its annual "Blitz Friday" pre-holiday sales event.

OSHA's inspection found that the store's employees were exposed to being crushed by the crowd due to the store's failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management principles. This failure includes providing employees with the necessary training and tools to safely manage the large crowd of shoppers.

"This was an unusual situation but not an unforeseen one," said Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA’s acting area director for Long Island. "The store should have recognized, based on prior ‘Blitz Friday’ experiences, the need to implement effective crowd management to protect its employees."

As a result, OSHA has issued Wal-Mart one serious citation under its general duty clause for exposing workers to the recognized hazard of being crushed by the crowd. The citation carries a proposed fine of $7,000, the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

"Effective planning and crowd management could have prevented this incident and its grave consequences," said Robert Kulick, OSHA's regional administrator in New York. "Wal-Mart must now take steps to ensure that a situation such as this one never happens again."

Wal-Mart: Safety is of Highest Importance

Daphne Moore, corporate communications director for Wal-Mart, said in a statement that the safety of Wal-Mart associates "is of the highest importance to our company."

"We have never had a tragedy like this occur in our stores, and we never want it to happen again," she said. "We disagree with the type of citations issued, and there is no OSHA or retail industry guidance that would have alerted us to this type of unforeseeable incident. We expect to resolve this matter in a constructive manner that fosters the safety and well-being of our associates."

Wal-Mart has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director or contest the citations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The inspection was conducted by OSHA's Long Island Area Office in Westbury, N.Y.

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