The holiday shopping season traditionally kicks off on the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "Black Friday." On this day, retailers usually offer major sales that can attract large and unruly crowds of bargain hunters. On Black Friday in 2008, for example, a worker at a Long Island, New York, Walmart was trampled to death when a crowd of 2,000 shoppers broke down the doors and mobbed the store. Although such crowds don't occur at every store, and they don't last when they do, they can pose a sudden, deadly hazard to workers and shoppers themselves.
Retailers expecting hordes of shoppers on this month's Black Friday need to be prepared. After the New York incident, federal OSHA prepared a fact sheet on crowd control guidance for retailers. If you're hoping for a throng of shoppers this holiday season, heed the advice below to keep workers and shoppers safe.
In the event of an emergency, your employees should know to follow the instructions of emergency responders and whom to defer to if both police and the fire department are on the scene.
Don't wait until the morning after Thanksgiving to plan and prepare the following:
- Security. Uniformed security personnel should be visible at entrances and in potential trouble spots (such as locations of sale merchandise and near checkout lines).
- Staffing. Based on the size of the crowd expected, create a detailed staffing plan for the number of employees needed and designate a location for each employee.
- Training. Train security personnel and employees in crowd management and emergency procedures.
- Facilities. Your local fire or police department can help you determine whether your site meets all public safety requirements and ensure that all necessary permits and licenses are obtained.
- Signage. Legible and visible signs should describe entrance locations, store opening times, and other important information, such as the locations of major sale items.
- Crowd control. Barricades or rope lines for crowd management should be in place well before customers arrive at the store. An effective barricade or rope line:
—should allow employees to come and go freely to help control the crowd and allow the crowd to be divided into small groups for the purpose of controlling entrance
—should have an adequate number of breaks and turns at regular intervals to reduce the risk of customers pushing from the rear and possibly crushing others, including employees
—should allow customers adequate access to toilets, washbasins, water, and shelter
- Communications procedures. Workers, including security personnel, need to be able to communicate clearly with the crowd and with each other.
—Designate employees to explain approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public and direct them to lines or entrances. Consider providing pamphlets that employees can distribute showing the location of entrances, exits, and special sales items within the store.
—Shortly before opening the store, employees should remind waiting crowds of the entrance process. (For example, entry is limited to small groups or by redemption of numbered tickets.)
—Make sure outside personnel have radios or some other way to communicate with personnel inside the store and emergency responders.
First-come, first-served service. If customers feel they must physically be among the first to reach an item to buy it, they may mob the store. Prevent this by:
—distributing numbered wristbands or tickets for sale items to those customers who line up early, or
—using an Internet lottery for "hot" items
- Removal of potential hazards. Shopping carts and other potential obstacles or objects that could be used as projectiles should be located inside the store and away from the entrance, not in the parking lot.
During the Sale Event
While your sale is ongoing, maintain site safety and crowd control by doing the following:
- Communicate. Make sure all employees and crowd control personnel are aware that the doors are about to open. Use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd and communicate information or problems.
- Maintain clear walkways. This includes positioning security or crowd managers to the sides of entering or exiting shoppers, not in the center of their path. Maintain walkways by:
—providing crowd and entry management measures at all entrances, including those not being used
—using more than one entrance, if possible
—providing a safe entrance for people with disabilities
—never blocking or locking exit doors
- Control occupancy. When the store reaches maximum occupancy, do not allow additional customers to enter until the occupancy level drops.
In a situation like this, things can and do go wrong. Prepare for emergencies of all kinds, including overcrowding, crowd crushing, violent acts, and fire, by doing the following beforehand:
- Notify local emergency services. Make sure that the local police, fire department, and hospitals are aware of your event, and share your emergency plan with them.
- Prepare your staff. Designate an employee to contact local emergency responders, if necessary, and make sure all workers know whom to call for emergency medical response.
- Provide first aid. Have first-aid kits, automated external defibrillators, and trained personnel available on-site.
The complete OSHA fact sheet is available here.