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If you’ve never had the post-Thanksgiving pleasure of fighting off housewives for the last toy on the shelf (think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desperate search for TurboMan in Jingle All the Way), consider yourself missing out. And of course, the early bird catches the 60% off iPhones, so large crowds often gather outside the front doors long before sunrise. It’s all part of the ritual.
But the aptly named Black Friday also has a dark side. In 2008 a Wal-Mart employee in New York was trampled by frenzied shoppers. In that case, the store opened at 5 a.m., and a crowd of 2,000 shoppers had already gathered by 4:55 – with no more than ten employees present to attempt crowd control. As they pressed up against the glass doors, the glass eventually gave way, and the stampede trampled and killed 34-year-old temporary holiday employee Jdimytai Damour, who was 6’5″, 270 pounds. Others suffered minor injuries. But people who had spent almost a whole day in line were too determined to quit shopping.
Police later suggested that the stampeders could potentially face criminal charges, but there were simply too many people to accurately identify the wrongdoers. But Damour’s family did sue Wal-Mart for wrongful death in “failing to provide adequate security and for creating an environment of mayhem that led to the death.” Wal-Mart settled the case and agreed to implement new security precautions, and OSHA fined them $7,000 (the statutory maximum).
Last week, OSHA released a list of tips to protect retail employees from injury during holiday promotions. OSHA suggests using an online lottery for the most popular items to prevent the rush of the crowds, pre-sale emergency planning for stores, and even barricades during the biggest sales. Another OSHA idea is to hand out numbered wristbands as shoppers arrive, so that the latecomers will be less likely to push their way to the front of the throng. And by all means, the retail stores should never exceed their maximum occupancy. Since Damour’s death, many Wal-Mart stores stay open 24 hours, throughout Thanksgiving and into Black Friday, to prevent another fatal bottleneck.
So if you haven’t eaten too much turkey, get out there and boost the economy this Black Friday. Of course, it might be safer to look for deals online. But if stores adequately implement OSHA’s guidelines, this type of tragedy should never be repeated.
– Caroline Fleming
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