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OSHA Issues Workplace Safety Instructions for Black Friday

On Black Friday 2008, the day after Thanksgiving, an employee of a Wal Mart store on Long Island was trampled to death as an angry mob broke into the store and trampled the worker. With other employees he had been trying to keep customers out until the official opening time, 5:00 AM, but at 4:55 AM, the crowd broke down the door.

There have been other incidents in the years since, and regulators and lawmakers have tried to require retailers to make things safer for employees as well as frenzied shoppers.  This year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a press release listing tips for retailers trying to protect their workers. Titled Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers, the fact sheet included steps retailers should take to protect workers during major sales events, such as Black Friday.  In addition to issuing the fact sheet, OSHA sent letters to major retailers reminding them of their responsibilities to protect employees. 

The Fact Sheet includes precautions to be taken at retail stores that include: Have trained police officers or security personnel who know crowd control tactics

  • Ensure that shoppers do not stand directly in front of the entrance to the store
  • Implement crowd control strategies well before the doors are scheduled to open
  • Develop emergency plans and make sure all employees know them – this includes temporary seasonal employees
  • Develop and communicate best practices for informing customers about safety procedures
  • Prevent customers from entering the store once the legal maximum occupancy is reached
  • Never lock or block exit and fire doors

The OSHA Act of 1970 makes employers responsible for making their workplaces safe and healthy for their employees. OSHA provides training, education and enforcement of standards.  Although the safety guidelines are just that – guidelines, failure to try to prevent disasters like the 2008 stampede in Valley Stream could leave employers liable for OSHA fines and private lawsuits.