As holiday shopping kickstarts with Thanksgiving this year, OSHA is reminding retailers to put the safety of their employees before anything else. The lure of insane shopping bargains can give rise to a dangerous mob mentality among shoppers, resulting in crowd injuries, fire, and other accidents. In 2008, a Walmart employee was trampled to death by the crowd of shoppers on Black Friday, the biggest sale event during the holidays.
OSHA asks retailers to manage crowd effectively this Black Friday
Retailers expect a certain amount of chaos with the bustling crowd every year – shoving, bruising, pushing past one another to get into the doors – on the day following Thanksgiving. Anticipating the crowd frenzy on the day, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has issued advisory letters to employers asking them to take necessary steps to ensure retail crowd safety on Black Friday and through the holiday season.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health asks retailers to “take the time to adopt a crowd management plan and follow a few simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm to retail employees.” He added, “The busy shopping season should not put retail workers at risk of being injured or killed.”
Steps taken by Walmart to control crowd of holiday shoppers
Steve Bratspies, executive vice president for general merchandise at Walmart, describes the Black Friday experience as “the Super Bowl of retail. You’ve got to be on the field and ready to play.” To handle the shopping madness, the world’s largest retailer has taken up the following steps to better manage crowds this year:
- For the first time, the store has announced a pre-Black Friday sale, reducing prices on nearly 100 toys and electronics. Retailers are opening three hours earlier to cater to more shoppers.
- Walmart’s website now puts five million products on sale as compared to two million items last year. And almost all the products offered are eligible for free shipping.
- Walmart’s “One-hour in-stock guarantee” program will see 21 items in the store, instead of three items last year. Among the Guarantee specials include incentive-based sales on Apple’s iPad and iPhone products when purchased with Walmart gift cards, and deep discounts on hotly desired brands like Beats headphones.
- Walmart will also provide a limited number of wristbands to customers seeking the “one-hour guaranteed specials.” These wristbands will allow shoppers to browse around the store rather than wait the entire time in line to buy an item off the one-hour in-stock special event that starts at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. After browsing and buying, shoppers can get in the designated line to buy items placed among the one-hour specials.
- To meet the high demand, Walmart has increased its TV screen inventory by 65 percent. Number of tablets on the shelf has been increased by five times the last year.
Effective crowd management during the holidays and big sale events is essential to not only keep the staff safe, but also to protect the shoppers — sometimes from themselves. Guidelines prepared by OSHA chalk out some important safety measures like hiring extra staff to handle customers, setting up proper barricades or rope lines for shoppers, pre-planning for emergency procedures, keeping exit doors unobstructed and unlocked, and restricting entry of additional customers when the store reaches its maximum occupancy.