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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.