A judge recently upheld a fine issued to Wal-Mart by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to put effective safety measures in place during the Thanksgiving weekend sale of 2008, which resulted in an employee being trampled to death. Wal-Mart had been fighting the fine because of concern that OSHA and government could become too involved in dictating how businesses run sales.
Wal-Mart did put certain safety measures in place as part of a deal to avoid prosecution by the county where the employee died. There were no injuries or deaths in 2009 or 2010. Wal-Mart extended the measures to most of its stores across the nation. The judge said that the fact that Wal-Mart put these measures in place and that no one was hurt showed that the business was negligent in not providing such employee safety measures earlier.
According to The New York Times, OSHA issued new crowd control guidelines last year and many businesses will likely start to implement them now that the fine was upheld. Some business owners are afraid that OSHA will become too involved in regulating sale events or that retail businesses could face liability for dangerous crowds that they had no part in creating, such as a random shooter in a mall.
Wal-Mart made several changes to its Thanksgiving sale procedures after the employee’s death. Instead of making people rush into the store to grab hot items, the store issued tickets for those items. Employees also had platforms to stand on to direct customers, rather than having to scramble on top of vending machines or be trampled. The crowd is also guided into the store in an orderly fashion with steel barriers set up in zigzag patterns in front of the store (like at the airport ticket counter), rather than a pushing mass of people.
Ruling Emphasizes Crowd Control by Retailers (The New York Times)