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OSHA and DOL: tips to prevent workplace injuries on Black Friday

Five years ago, a worker at a Walmart store was trampled to death by stampeding shoppers as he opened the door the morning of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Other workers at the store were themselves trampled as they tried to rescue him.

No one wants to see such a tragedy happen again, least of all the federal agencies tasked with protecting employees from avoidable workplace accidents and injuries -- the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. To prevent that, the agencies have sent letters to major retailers urging them to take sensible precautions when holding major sales events like Black Friday.

If you’re a worker or small business owner here in North Carolina, you should take precautions, as well. It’s just not right for the day after Thanksgiving and the official start of the holiday season to be marred by someone getting hurt.

The key is crowd management, and there are specific techniques to keep crowds under control so that neither shoppers nor employees are injured. "OSHA urges retailers to take the time to adopt a crowd management plan and follow a few simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm to retail employees," says the DOL’s assistant secretary for occupational safety and health.

OSHA’s full tip sheet retailers is available on the agency’s website, but here’s a quick overview of the minimum aspects of a crowd management plan to prevent both shopper and worker injuries:

  • Plan and maintain unblocked exit routes -- never lock or block the exit doors.
  • Do not set up rope lines or barricades that end right in front of the store entrance -- leave room to maneuver.
  • Set up good signage and work out clear explanations for shoppers on procedures for entering the store.
  • Enforce the stated building code signs listing maximum occupancy levels.
  • Have sufficient numbers of trained security personnel or police officers on hand.
  • Set up emergency plans in advance in case something goes wrong.

"The busy shopping season should not put retail workers at risk of being injured or killed," OSHA reiterates, and we all know that’s true. We also know that excited crowds don’t think -- so you have to have a plan in place to keep enthusiasm from getting out of control.

Source: HR.BLR.com, "DOL, OSHA again warning retailers about holiday crowd control as Black Friday looms," Nov. 20, 2013

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