Remember Crowd Safety on Black Friday

By Roy Maurer Nov 22, 2013

Ever since the Nov. 28, 2008, trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee in Valley Stream, N.Y., during a stampede of Black Friday shoppers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released a set of crowd management safety guidelines for retailers at the start of each holiday season.

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

“The busy shopping season should not put retail workers at risk of being injured or killed,” said Michaels.

Approximately 97 million people plan to shop on Black Friday this year, according to a preliminary shopping survey from the National Retail Federation.

Crowd management planning should begin ahead of events that are likely to draw large crowds, and crowd management, pre-event setup and emergency-situation management should be part of event planning, OSHA advised.

OSHA recommendations for safe crowd management include:

  • Hiring additional staff as needed and having trained security or crowd management personnel or police officers onsite.
  • Creating a detailed staffing plan, based on the size of the crowd expected, that designates a location for each worker.
  • Properly training employees to manage the event.
  • Contacting local fire and police agencies to determine if the event site meets all public-safety requirements, and ensuring that all permits and licenses are obtained and that local emergency services are aware of the event.
  • Designating a worker to contact local emergency responders if necessary.
  • Designating a store manager to make key decisions as needed.
  • Providing legible and visible signs that indicate entrance and exit locations, store opening times and other important information, such as the location of major sale items and restrooms.
  • Preparing an emergency plan that addresses potential dangers to workers, including overcrowding, crowd crushing, being struck by the crowd, violent acts and fire.
  • Sharing your emergency plan with all local public-safety agencies.
  • Setting up barricades or rope lines for crowd management well before customers’ arrival. Make sure that barricades are set up so that the customer line does not start right at the store’s entrance, OSHA advised. This will allow for orderly crowd management and make it possible to divide people into small groups that will be slowly allowed into the store, the agency said. Ensure that barricade lines have breaks and turns at regular intervals, to reduce the risk of customers pushing from the rear and possibly crushing others.
  • Designating workers to explain approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public and to direct them to lines or entrances.
  • Ensuring that outside personnel have radios or some other way to communicate with workers inside the store and emergency responders.
  • Using entry strategies such as numbered wristbands or tickets that are given to the earlier-arriving customers so they have first access to sale items.
  • Using an Internet lottery for “hot” items.
  • Placing sale items in different parts of the store, to prevent overcrowding in one place.
  • Putting shopping carts and other potential obstacles or projectiles inside the store and away from the entrance, not in the parking lot.
  • Providing separate store access for staff.
  • Using a public-address system or bullhorns to manage the crowd and to communicate information or problems.
  • Positioning security or crowd managers to the sides of entering or exiting customers, not in the center of the crowd’s path.
  • Providing a safe entrance for people with disabilities.
  • Keeping first-aid kits and automated external defibrillators available, and having personnel trained in using AEDs and CPR onsite.

In addition, OSHA cautioned employers to maintain appropriate access to exit routes and to ensure that exits are not blocked.

“With thoughtful planning and implementation of an effective crowd management action plan and maintaining emergency exits free of obstructions, we all can have a safe and happy holiday season,” Michaels said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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