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The deadly dangers of deep discounts

Two years ago, a temporary employee at a Wal-Mart in New York was killed when frenzied Black Friday shoppers trampled and suffocated him. A crowd of 2,000 shoppers stormed the locked doors of the store and broke through, injuring the employees attempting to hold the shoppers back and killing Jdimytai Damour. The subsequent OSHA investigation resulted in $7,000 fine to Wal-Mart because although there exists no OSHA standard on crowd control, employers have a general duty to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that could cause serious injury or death, and, OSHA argued, Wal-Mart should have been aware of the hazards present in a riled-up, bargain-hungry crowd and should have provided adequate crowd control measures.

Wal-Mart has spent millions of dollars fighting the citation, arguing that this is an expansive reading of OSHA’s general duty clause. The case is currently before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), and a decision is expected soon.

Retailers and the media actively gin up consumers with early store openings, “doorbuster deals” for the first customers, and news stories (and the accompanying publicity) about people camping outside of stores days ahead. This atmosphere creates an overcaffeinated, deal-crazed mob that endangers employees and consumers. Recognizing this, OSHA has sent a letter to major retailers detailing security measures that they should take to avoid a similar tragedy. Suggestions include setting the waiting area back from the entrance to control entry, as well as including breaks and turns in the waiting line to avoid crowd swells and pushes from the rear. OSHA also suggests removing carts and other instruments that could be used as a battering ram. At least one town has codified similar precautions to protect its employees.

If you are planning to participate in Black Friday events, be safe, be respectful, and remember that it’s just a laptop. Or, consider participating in Cyber Monday.