Posts Tagged ‘trampling’

Retailers: Are you ready for crowds on Black Friday?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

In the pre-holiday shopping season, crowd control is no small issue for retailers. And Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the behemoth day that dwarfs all other days. Last year, 212 million people spent $45 billion shopping in retail stores and websites over the Black Friday weekend. And it’s not always happy holiday cheer – people can get pretty cranky in their pursuit of a bargain.
A few years ago, we reported on the the death of a worker trampled by crowds in a Long Island, NY during a Walmart “Black Friday” sale. Crowd control experts would say that the term “trampling is imprecise:

“Crowd forces can reach levels that almost impossible to resist or control. Virtually all crowd deaths are due to compressive asphyxia and not the “trampling” reported by the news media. Evidence of bent steel railings after several fatal crowd incidents show that forces of more than 4500N (1,000lbs) occurred. Forces are due to pushing, and the domino effect of people leaning against each other.”

Since that unfortunate event, WalMart has spent nearly $2 million fighting the $7,000 fine imposed by OSHA. History was not in the retailer’s favor: in the three prior years, thronging crowds had popped the hinges off the doors of the same store. And as it got closer to the 5 a.m. opening, the crowd was rowdy enough that a regional WalMart executive suggested that they not open the doors because police were not present, a suggestion that the store manager did not take.
It may seem counterproductive to spend so much money to contest a modest fine (the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law), but WalMart was actually trying to prevent a precedent from being established. Retail industry groups do not want the “government micromanaging how sales are conducted.” Two years after the WalMart stampede, OSHA issued Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers (PDF), which offered guidance for various crowd control measures, including suggestions for major changes to the first-come, first-serve way that many sales events are held.
In October, the National Retail Federation issued its own guidance in the form of Effective Crowd Management: Guidelines on how to maintain the safety and security of your customers, employees and store. Retailers can download a copy of the 22-page document, which discusses crowd control for planned events such as sales, promotions, and celebrity appearances, as well as for unplanned events such as the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, comedic flash mobs, and organized criminal gangs.
Criminal shoplifting gangs are nothing new – retailers have long been plagued by groups of “grab and run” gangs that descend in numbers on a store and distract employees. What’s different today is the efficiency with which they can organize using mobile phones and social media. Although the National Retail Foundation has noted that media distorts the threat of the so-called criminal flash mobs. These are not to be confused with the much more benign and often entertaining flash mobs that occasionally stage improvisational musical or dance events in retail establishments. But despite whether they are amusing to the public or not, “spontaneous” unplanned events still pose a crowd control and security challenge to the workers.