5 Years After Deadly Walmart Black Friday Stampede, OSHA Reminds Stores To Keep Order

In the early morning hours of Nov. 28, 2008, a Walmart employee in Long Island was trampled to death by over-eager shoppers rushing to grab doorbuster deals. In the years since, many stores have taken measures to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again, but it doesn’t hurt to remind retailers what can be done to minimize any mob mania.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has sent letters to some of the nation’s largest retailers, along with retail associations and fire departments, to remind them that while the whole doorbuster, get-em-while-we-have-em sales mentality is fun and all, it should be done in a way that doesn’t put customers and employees in danger.

“The busy shopping season should not put retail workers at risk of being injured or killed,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, which is urging retailers to take the time to adopt a proper crowd management plan that includes some of the safety guidelines provided in this OSHA fact sheet.

In addition to having trained security or police on site (and well in advance of the store’s opening), there are some guidelines that seem like common sense, but which a number of stores have ignored for years, like starting barricades and rope lines away from the store’s entrance. In the 2008 tragedy, customers were waiting up against the entrance of the Walmart and eventually just tore some of the doors from their hinges.

Having the line away from the immediate entrance makes it easier to follow two other important safety guidelines. First, it helps store employees regulate how many people are going into the store at any given time by making it more difficult for shoppers to sneak in or rush the entrance. Second, it keeps the entrance clear so that, in case of an emergency, those in the store can get out quickly.

Speaking of which, OSHA reminds retailers — but really shouldn’t have to — not to block or lock exit doors. It might seem tempting to minimize the number of exits to prevent shoplifters from sneaking out a side or back door, but if there’s a panic in the store, a locked door could be deadly.

Finally, the store should really go out of its way to make clear and explain the procedures for the evening. Yes, it might be annoying and repetitive to hear some employee explain the same instructions over and over, but I think most of us would rather be mildly irritated than having outright confusion when it comes time to shop.

This will be the first year that many major big box retailers are opening before midnight. Will 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. openings, which overlap many consumers’ Thanksgiving dinner plans, help alleviate some of the doorbuster madness? We’ll find out in a couple weeks.

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