shoppersIt’s that time of year again, when retailers draw unusually large numbers of customers into stores with deep discounts for an annual shopping binge known as Black Friday.

The financial success of the event has motivated retailers to open their doors even earlier, offer bigger sales and advertise heavily. Those efforts have resulted in enormous crowds and, in some cases, enormous crowd control problems that threaten the safety of retail employees.

This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old Wal-Mart employee who was trampled as shoppers rushed through the retailer’s doors to take advantage of Black Friday sales.

Just as shopping on the day after Thanksgiving has become a tradition in the U.S. issuing warnings about Black Friday worker safety has become a regular item on OSHA’s “to do” list.

In letters issued this week to firefighter and fire marshals associations, retail trade organizations, and chief executive officers of large retail companies, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels explained that crowd control and proper planning are critical to preventing injuries and death.

According to OSHA, crowd management guidelines should include on-site, trained security personnel or police officers, barricades or rope lines for pedestrians that do not start right in front of the store's entrance, no blocked or locked exit doors, and other emergency procedures in place to address potential dangers.

An OSHA fact sheet has guidelines for planning and pre-event set-up.

During the sales event, the store should:

  • Provide a separate store entrance for staff. Provide door monitors there to prevent crowd entry.
  • Make sure that all employees and crowd control personnel are aware that the doors are about to open.
  • Staff entrances with uniformed guards, police or other authorized personnel.
  • Use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd and to communicate information or problems.
  • Position security or crowd managers to the sides of entering (or exiting) public, not in the center of their path.
  • Provide crowd and entry management measures at all entrances, including the ones not being used. If possible, use more than one entrance.
  • When the store reaches maximum occupancy, do not allow additional customers to enter until the occupancy level drops.
  • Provide a safe entrance for people with disabilities.

In case an emergency situation does occur, employees and managers should know in advance who to call for emergency medical response and where first aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are located (they should also be trained in how to use them).

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