By James L. Curtis, Brent I. Clark, Meagan Newman, and Craig B. Simonsen

Holiday shopping is increasingly becoming associated with violence and hazards. At one large national chain store last year “crowds who came looking for holiday deals came face-to-face with riots, shootings, and pepper-spray attacks”.  CNN notes that “violence marred Black Friday shopping in at least seven states, including California, where police say a woman doused fellow shoppers with pepper spray in a bid to snag a discounted video game console.”

These incidents add to a previous incident where a worker was trampled to death while a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a big box store to take advantage of a Black Friday sales event. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the store was not using the crowd management measures recommended in OSHA’s fact sheet – Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers, which provides employers with recommended elements for crowd management plans.

OSHA’s Assistant Secretary David Michaels also sent a letter to the CEOs of fourteen major retail companies, saying that “crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years.” “Many of these incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd management plan, and this [OSHA] fact sheet provides retail employers with guidelines for avoiding injuries during the holiday shopping season.”

Michaels points out that under the federal law “employers are responsible for providing a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death. OSHA encourages employers to plan for crowd management several weeks, or even months, in advance of sales events that draw large crowds. We recommend that employers and retail store owners adopt a plan that includes, at a minimum, the elements outlined in the fact sheet.”

In addition, the recently released U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BOL) preliminary findings of the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, notes that retail fatalities were sufficiently prominent as to be quantified. OSHA uses this data when developing strategies for what industries to focus OSHA’s enforcement efforts.

Retailers are advised to review and implement the OSHA suggestions for crowd management. Adopting, implementing, and training store employees on the crowd management plan will both lessen the risk of employee and shopper incidents, and will assist the employer in fending off potential OSHA enforcement proceedings.