Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Protecting Workers During Holiday Sales Events

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Nov 26, 2019

StoreAs we approach the winter holidays, retailers everywhere are planning their biggest cycles of annual sales. One doesn’t have to be a grinch to notice that these events can introduce additional hazards for retail employees – and for others who may be shopping. It’s therefore a good time to review guidance for managing these hazards, which was promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2012. This guidance followed a national review after a highly-publicized incident during which a worker at a Long Island Walmart was trampled to death by a crowd mobbing the store’s Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) sales event in 2008. OSHA determined that Walmart should have anticipated crowd-related hazards, and fined the company for a violation of the Employer’s General Duty Clause (I wrote about this here)

Non-retail employers who host major public events that may or not become chaotic can also benefit from review of event-related safety and security measures.

What Crowd Control Measures Does OSHA Recommend?

OSHA's Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers provide pointers for several stages related to planning and hosting a major event that will draw crowds.

  • Planning – if large crowds are expected:

    • Provide additional personnel (staff, trained security or crowd management personnel, police).

    • Create a detailed staffing plan that identifies how many workers are needed to ensure safety (e.g., near entrances and throughout the store), and assign each worker a location.

    • Contact local fire and police agencies to ensure the event site meets all public safety requirements and has all required permits, and to ensure the agencies (and local hospital(s)) are aware of the event.

    • Designate a worker to contact local emergency responders if necessary.

    • Designate a store manager to make key decisions as needed during the event.

    • Provide legible and visible signs that describe entrance and exit locations, store opening times, and other important information (including location of major sale items and restrooms).

    • Prepare an emergency plan that addresses potential dangers facing workers, including overcrowding, crowd crushing, being struck by the crowd, violent acts and fire. Share this plan with local public safety agencies.

    • Train workers in event and crowd management procedures and the emergency plan. Provide a practice opportunity (Include local public safety agencies if appropriate).

  • Pre-Event Setup – before customers arrive:

    • Set up barricades or rope lines for crowd management.

    • Ensure that barricades are set up so that the customers’ line does not start right at the store entrance. This allows for orderly crowd management entry, including to divide crowds into smaller groups to control entrance.

    • Ensure that barricade lines have an adequate number of breaks and turns at regular intervals to reduce the risk of customers pushing from the rear and possibly crushing others, including workers.

    • Designate workers to explain approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public, and direct them to lines or entrances.

    • Provide outside personnel with a way to communicate with personnel inside the store and emergency responders (cell phones, radios).

    • Consider mechanisms such as numbered wristbands or tickets to provide earlier-arriving customers with first access to sale items.

    • Consider using Internet lotteries for “hot” items.

    • Distribute sale items in different parts of the store to prevent overcrowding in one place.

    • Locate shopping carts and other potential obstacles or projectiles inside the store and away from the entrance, not in the parking lot.

    • If appropriate, provide public amenities including toilets, washbasins, water and shelter.

    • Communicate updated information to customers waiting in line.

    • Shortly before opening, remind waiting crowds of the entrance process.

  • During the Sales Event:

    • Provide staff a separate store entrance, with door monitors to prevent crowd entry.

    • Alert all employees and crowd control personnel when doors are about to open.

    • Staff entrances with uniformed guards, police or other authorized personnel.

    • Use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd and to communicate information or problems.

    • Position security or crowd managers to the sides of entering (or exiting) public, not in their path.

    • Provide crowd and entry management measures at all entrances, including those not being used. If possible, use more than one entrance.

    • When the store reaches maximum occupancy, keep additional customers outside until the occupancy level drops.

    • Provide a safe entrance for people with disabilities.

  • Emergency Situations

    • Do not restrict egress, and do not block or lock exit doors.

    • Know in advance who to call for emergency medical response.

    • Keep first-aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available, and personnel trained in CPR and AED use.

    • Instruct employees, in the event of an emergency, to follow instructions from authorized first responders, regardless of company rules.

Now What?

OSHA’s guidelines encompass the main onsite security issues related to major retail sales event, and are largely applicable to other events expected to draw large crowds – and especially excited or agitated crowds larger than the location usually manages. If a location operates as a venue for large events (think sports arenas and concert pavilions) then these issues should be part of day-to-day safety efforts. Readers should note that OSHA provides a Holiday Workplace Safety web page that compiles links to guidance about order fulfillment, delivery, retail sales and general (link below). If deliberate violence is a concern, then workplace violence prevention efforts should be expanded to cover those concerns (I wrote about special event security here).

Self-Assessment Checklist 

Is the organization planning a major retail sale (or other special event) anticipated to draw large crowds?

Does the local jurisdiction require an event permit, and/or other coordination with relevant public agencies (law enforcement, fire, public services, etc.)?

  • If so, have appropriate authorizations and coordination been secured?

Has a plan been developed, appropriate to the event and any associated threats or risks?

  • Have basic logistics and chronology been determined?

  • Have needs for event staff and resources been determined and fulfilled?

  • Are controls prepared to managed anticipated crowds?

  • Are procedures and communication systems in place to oversee the event?

  • Are incident and emergency response plans in place?

Where Can I Go For More Information? 

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. 

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About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years. 

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: Phillip Pessar Kmart Closing Sale Miami via photopin (license)

Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Employee Rights, EHS, Workplace violence