Black Friday: Great Deals, Long Lines and OSHA’s General Duty Clause

Some may remember in 2008, OSHA issued a general duty citation against a national retail store when one of its employees was knocked to the ground and crushed by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers surging into the store for a holiday sales event. Of course, OSHA does not need a fatality to issue a general duty citation. 

It is a tragic and important reminder for retail businesses as we head into the holiday season that they need to consider crowd management safety. A good starting point for businesses would be to review OSHA’s Fact Sheet, “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailer” available at the link below.

The Fact Sheet is intended to provide guidelines for businesses to help avoid injuries during the busy holiday shopping season or other events where large crowds may gather. The Fact Sheet suggests adopting a plan which should include the following elements: (1) planning; (2) pre-event setup; (3) during the sales event; and (4) emergency situations.

In each of those scenarios, OSHA makes certain recommendations for businesses to consider. For example, in the planning stage, OSHA suggests, among other things, creating a staffing plan that designates a location for each worker and ensuring there are legible and visible signs that describe entrance and exit locations, store opening times and other important information such as the location of major sales items and restrooms. In the pre-event planning stage, OSHA suggests, among other things, setting up barricades so that customer lines do not start right at the store entrance and designating workers to explain entrance procedures to the arriving public.

Long lines and crowded conditions may also pose another safety issue for workers that can lead to a general duty citation, i.e., workplace violence. Following the Fact Sheet should also help alleviate some of these workplace violence concerns with respect to customers. For example, during the sales event, OSHA suggests staffing entrances with uniformed guards, police or other authorized personnel and positioning security or crowd managers to the sides of entering (or exiting) public, not in the center of their path.

We hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving and safe holiday shopping season!

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