Thanksgiving is next week, which means time with family and friends, good food and reflecting on the things in your life for which you are grateful. Thanksgiving week also marks the beginning of something else- holiday shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving, aka “Black Friday” for shoppers means lining up for hours before the store opens to buy those presents on everyone’s wish list for the best price possible. But what if you are the business owner? How do you manage crowd control to keep your employees and customers safe?
Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years as certain products have become more popular and as people have tightened their budgets. In 2008, a retail worker in New York was trampled by customers and died at the opening of a “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving) sale.
OSHA requires that employers provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. As a result, OSHA encourages employers to adopt effective safety and health management tools to identify and eliminate work-related hazards, including those caused by large masses of people during busy shopping times such as the holiday season.
The following guidelines are designed to help your workers in avoiding injuries during a busy shopping season or other crowded event. Much like other preventive methods, crowd management planning should begin well in advance of the event or season.
If your facility anticipates a large crowd, consider the following planning guidelines well in advance of the event:
- Where large crowds are expected, hire trained security and crowd management personnel or police officers to be on-site.
- Create a detailed staffing plan that designates a location for each employee. Based on the size of the crowd expected, determine the number of employees that are needed at designated locations. These locations may include the entrance(s), the dressing rooms, near “hot” merchandise, etc.
- Ensure that employees are properly trained to manage the event.
- Contact your local fire and police agencies to determine if the event site meets all public safety requirements. Also ensure that all permits and licenses are obtained, and that local emergency personnel are aware that the event is occurring.
- Designate an employee to contact your local emergency personnel in the event that your event becomes unruly.
- Provide legible and visible signage that provides entrance locations, store opening times and other pertinent information for customers.
- Prepare an emergency plan that addresses potential dangers facing employees, including overcrowding, crowd crushing, being stuck within a crowd, violence and fires. Share the emergency plan with your local public safety agencies.
- Train all employees on your established crowd management procedures. Provide them with an opportunity to practice the special events plan well ahead of time. Consider also including your localpublic safety agencies, if necessary.
- Keep first aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available, and have personnel trained in using AEDs and CPR.
Pre-Event Setup Preparations
- Set up barricades or rope lines for crowd management well in advance of customer arrival. Ensure that the barricade lines do not start right at the entrance of the store, as this will allow for orderly crowd management entry and make it possible to divide crowds into small groups.
- 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. This is a danger to your customers and employees alike.
- Designate employees to explain approach and entrance procedures to your arriving customers. Employees should also direct them to lines or entrances.
- Assure that employees working outside have radios or some other way of communicating with employees working inside. They should also have a way to communicate with emergency personnel, if needed.
- Consider using mechanisms, such as numbered wristbands or tickets, for early arriving customers so there is no fighting about a spot in line.
- Consider using an Internet lottery for “hot” items to avoid a huge rush.
- Place shopping carts and other potential obstacles or projectiles inside the store and away from the entrance. Do not keep these items in the parking lot.
- Provide additional public amenities, such as toilets, sinks, etc., if necessary
- Communicate updated information to customers waiting in line and distribute pamphlets showing the locations of entrances, exits and special sale items.
- Remind waiting crowds to remain calm shortly before opening your doors.
During Your Sales Event
- Make sure all employees and crowd control personnel are aware that the doors are about to open before they do.
- Staff entrances with uniform guards, your local police or other hired authority 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/exiting public.
- Provide crowd and entry management personnel at all entrances, including the ones that are not being used. Provide more than one entrance/exit, if possible.
- When your location reaches maximum capacity, do not allow additional customers to enter until the occupancy level decreases.
- Provide a safe entrance for those with disabilities and those pushing small children in strollers.
- In an emergency situation, instruct your staff to remain calm, and to slowly escort customers out the door. Also remind employees to follow the instructions of emergency personnel and first responders to reduce the risk of injuries to themselves and customers.