This week OSHA sent a special letter to fourteen “big box” retailers reminding them of the unique safety hazards large retail employers face during the holiday shopping season, especially on “Black Friday.” OSHA is encouraging these employers to adopt crowd management plans to address the unique hazards presented at this time of year. While big box retailers face unique Black Friday crowd control issues, all retailers should be mindful of the increased safety hazards at this time of year and implement basic precautions well in advance of sales events to ensure that this critical sales period does not end in tragedy.

Retailers should be well aware that both employees and customers are under increased stress and pressure at this time of year. Retailers should implement a written crowd management plan that addresses pre-event set up, safety during the sales event and what to do in case of an emergency. If the retailer intends to stage a large event that will draw significant crowds, the retailer should share its plan with the local public safety agencies. The plan should address setting up barricades or rope lines in advance of the event, staffing the event with uniformed security guards and the use of a public address system or bullhorns to address the crowd. Even where retailers determine that a formal written plan is unnecessary, they should spend additional time training their sales associates and management on how to safely handle the increased customer traffic and what to do in case of an emergency.

Further, retailers should conduct additional training for its sales force on how to handle potential workplace violence situations. Because the continuing difficult economy has put severe financial pressures on many families, retailers can expect to be faced with emotional outbursts from stressed out customers that can easily escalate into violence. Sales staff needs to be trained on tactics to diffuse emotional situations before they escalate, and quickly call for assistance from management, security or 911 when tempers flare.

Anticipating and preparing for potentially hazardous safety situations that face the retail industry during the busy shopping season is truly worth it’s weight in gold considering the financial downside to any disruptions that an accident or workplace violence situation could cause to a retailer during the busy holiday shopping season. All retailers would be well advised to heed OSHA’s recommendation to put a plan in place now to ensure that your sales force is well prepared to deal with both the best and the worst that the season has to offer.