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Wal-Mart employee's death leads to greater crowd control regulation

Anyone who's ever dared to brave the Black Friday shopping crowds in search of a bargain knows how chaotic retail stores can become during a big sale. However, the 2008 post-Thanksgiving shopping rush at one Wal-Mart store quickly turned from chaotic to deadly as an employee was trampled to death by a mob of frantic customers.

In the aftermath of the employee's tragic death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) charged Wal-Mart with a $7,000 dollar fine for failing to enforce crowd safety guidelines. In Maryland and across the US, property owners are responsible for ensuring that the conditions on their premises do not pose a threat to public safety. OSHA's fine reflected the fact that Wal-Mart's negligent security measures failed to prevent the shopping crowd from being a dangerous mob.

Despite the relatively small size of the fine, Wal-Mart executives spent over $2 million dollars contesting the fee as they believed it would set a precedent allowing government regulators to monitor big sale-day events, both at Wal-Mart and other major retailers. Their appeal efforts ended in vain, however, when a recent court decision ruled in favor of OSHA.

After this ruling, retailers all over the nation will face increased pressure to control sale-day shopping crowds. Last year, OSHA released an updated list of crowd control guidelines, detailing the exact measures retailers must take to protect the safety of their customers and employees.

The guidelines require such things as barricades to keep excited crowds away from the store's entrance and employees assigned to monitor the crowd and keep things from getting out of control. Stores are also required to warn local police and fire departments when they expect that a sale might attract an exceptionally large crowd.

This recent ruling is a strong reminder to Wal-Mart and other retailers of their legal responsibility to maintain a safe environment for customers and employees alike.

Source: New York Times, "Ruling Emphasizes Crowd Control by Retailers." Stephanie Clifford, 28 March 2011

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