Safety and OSHA News

OSHA sends another warning about Black Friday crowds

The title of the press release says, “OSHA encourages major retailers to provide crowd management measures.” A better word instead of “encourages” would have been “warns.” 

That’s because OSHA has shown it will issue fines when crowd control problems impact workers. Not only that — OSHA will also spend lots of money to uphold the fines.

This all goes back to 2008 when a worker at Wal-Mart’s Valley Stream, NY, store was trampled and killed by a crowd of shoppers waiting to enter for Black Friday sales.

OSHA fined Wal-Mart $7,000 under the general duty clause because there are no occupational safety regulations on crowd control.

Wal-Mart appealed, trying to get the fine thrown out. It spent $2 million fighting the $7,000 fine according to The New York Times. It’s also estimated that OSHA spent almost $600,000 defending itself.

An administrative law judge sided with OSHA.

Why’d the retail giant spend so much on such a small fine? Industry experts say Wal-Mart’s motivation was likely fear of excessive interference by government agencies in sales and marketing campaigns.

Despite all this legal wrangling, Wal-Mart continues to adopt the types of measures recommended by OSHA to prevent another trampling death or serious injury.

In its press release, OSHA lists the following recommendations for retailers to avoid crowd control problems during major sales:

  • Have trained security personnel or police officers set up barricades or rope lines for pedestrians and crowd control well before customers are expected to arrive
  • Make sure barricades are set up so the customer line doesn’t start right at the store entrance
  • Have emergency procedures in place that address potential dangers
  • Have security personnel or customer service reps explain entrance procedures to the public, and
  • Don’t allow customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level.

Wal-Mart says it consulted with safety experts in the sports and entertainment industries to develop store-specific plans that include:

  • Eliminating the waiting lines by staying open through the night, starting at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day
  • Giving people tickets for hot items like electronics so they don’t have to rush and grab items
  • Using steel barriers instead of plastic ones, and
  • Using raised platforms so employees can tell people what’s happening.

The industry itself has jumped into the fray by releasing its own crowd control guidelines for retail stores. Again, they’re not all that much different than those recommended by OSHA.

Yet, the same group that published the recommendations, the National Retailers Foundation, has expressed concerns with OSHA’s action in the Wal-Mart case.

So the retailers are OK with setting voluntary crowd control standards, but they fear the ramifications of OSHA turning something voluntary into mandatory and punishable by the government.

Are voluntary standards enough? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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  • sheralroh

    I refuse to get sucked into the whole Black Friday shopping nonsense. I can’t believe that people will turn into animals just for the sake of saving a few bucks and the thought of someone dying for that greed is beyond belief. While I think the stores need to take precautions, I think people ought to pull their heads out of where they’re stuffed and act like real human beings for a change.

  • http://msn Heidi Brightly

    It is time to do away with OSHA- They are not in business of public safety, they are employee protection and safety agency and they have turned into a find and fine agency.

  • Deb S.

    I think “someone” needs to warn the stores …….be it OSHA or some other agency. Black Friday has turned into a massive “cluster”….what a joke! Instead of the stores hosting a day and a half of awesome sales, why not have a GREAT sale that lasts a week or more and “give back” to the consumer in the true spirit of Christmas. This business of fighting, pepper spray and trampeling someone to death in an attempt to save money on gifts for a holiday based on love and giving is just beyond belief to me. The same people commiting these offenses are also some of the same ones grabbing all the $1.99 DVD’s to sell on e-bay for $7.99 or more. What has this world come to?!? Yes! OSHA or some other agency needs to look out for the employees of these stores. I would hate to have to work any store on Black Friday, oh wait,….I think it’s Black Thursday and Friday now.