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Judge upholds OSHA citation against Wal-Mart after worker trampled to death (3/28)

A judge last week upheld OSHA citations and penalties against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., finding that the management of a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y. failed to provide adequate crowd control during a sale, resulting in a worker being trampled to death by shoppers in 2008.

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels said the ruling by Chief Administrative Law Judge Covette Rooney of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission shows employers are legally responsible for providing a safe workplace, even in the absence of a specific rule or standard. “If not properly managed by retailers, a large crowd poses a significant threat to the lives of workers and customers," said Michaels.

OSHA issued the citation for inadequate crowd management in May of 2009, after an investigation into the Nov. 28, 2008 of a Wal-Mart employee. The worker was knocked to the ground and crushed by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers surging into the store for its annual "Blitz Friday" holiday sales event. OSHA's inspection found that the store's workers were at risk of being crushed by the crowd due to the store's failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management practices. “Those practices would have provided the store's workers with the necessary training and tools to safely manage a large crowd of shoppers,” according to the agency.

Under its General Duty Clause, OSHA issued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. one serious citation for exposing workers to the recognized hazards of asphyxiation or being crushed by a crowd. Wal-Mart disputed the citation and the proposed fine of $7,000 -- the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law.

Michaels said during the course of the agency’s investigation, Wal-Mart implemented crowd control measures storewide, and the National Retail Federation also promoted those practices to its members. "We praise that action, and urge all retailers to implement crowd management practices ahead of future sales events likely to draw large crowds."

According to the Wal-Mart website, the company earned $14.2 billion in fiscal year 2010.

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