As 2013 comes to an end, we have been considering a number of workplace issues that employers might face at the end of the year and the beginning of the holiday season. In parts one and two of this blog series, we covered employers’ chief concerns when hiring a seasonal workforce and employers’ health care obligations towards seasonal workers. Part three considers the workplace safety issues involved in conducting seasonal sales and reviews one federal agency’s safety recommendations to retailers.


In 2008, on the morning after Thanksgiving, shoppers who had been waiting outside a large store in anticipation of its “Black Friday” sale, rushed through a store entrance in pursuit of sale items in limited supply and, in the process, trampled a store worker to death.

In light of that fatality and the impending holiday shopping season, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a fact sheet, “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers,” containing recommendations for retailers on controlling holiday shopping crowds. The guidelines themselves do not impose any new compliance requirements but are aimed at helping employers identify and eliminate work-related hazards.

The fact sheet divides its guidelines into four areas: “planning,” “pre-event setup,” “during the sales event,” and “emergency situations.” The agency’s more salient recommendations are summarized below.

Pre-Event Planning

Employers that expect large crowds at their facilities should take the following steps.

  • Hire additional staff as needed.
  • Ensure the presence of trained security or crowd management personnel (or police officers) on site.
  • Create a staffing plan that designates a location for each worker.
  • Properly train workers to manage the event.
  • Contact local fire and police agencies to determine if the event site meets all public safety requirements.
  • Obtain all necessary permits and licenses and notify local emergency services, including the local police, fire department, and hospital, of the event.
  • Post signs conveying important information, such as store opening times and the location of all entrances, exits, restrooms, and major sale items.
  • Prepare an emergency plan addressing potential dangers facing workers, including overcrowding, crowd crushing, violence, and fires.
  • Train employees about the emergency plan and conduct a “practice session” on how to implement the plan.

Pre-Event Setup

In order to prevent hazardous situations that may be caused by large crowds, employers should take the following steps.

  • Set up barricades or rope lines for crowd management well in advance of any customers arriving at the store.
  • Designate workers to explain approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public, and direct them to customers who are lined up outside or to all entrances.
  • Provide outside workers with a means of communicating with personnel inside the store and with emergency responders.
  • Locate sale items in different parts of the store to prevent overcrowding in any one place.
  • Locate shopping carts and other potential obstacles or projectiles inside the store and away from the entrance—not in the parking lot.
  • Communicate updated information about sale items to customers who are still waiting in line.

During the Event

For a safe store opening, employers should take the following steps.

  • Provide a separate store entrance for staff.
  • Notify all employees and crowd control personnel that the doors are about to open.
  • Position uniformed guards, police officers, or other authorized personnel at the entrances.
  • Use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd and to communicate information or problems.
  • Place security and/or crowd managers to the sides of the entering public, not in the center of the path.
  • Provide crowd and entry management measures at all entrances, including the ones not being used.
  • Limit the store’s occupancy and, do not allow additional customers to enter when the store reaches maximum occupancy, until a predetermined number of customers leave.

Emergency Planning

The fact sheet also offers employers the following tips on emergency planning.

  • Instruct employees, in the event of an emergency, to follow instructions from authorized first responders, regardless of company rules.
  • Know in advance whom to call for emergency medical response.
  • Make first-aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available.
  • Ensure that some of the personnel working at the sale are trained in using AEDs and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Maintain appropriate access to store exit routes and ensure that store exits are not blocked.

In summary, retailers should have well-structured plans in place that prepare their employees for the imminent holiday shopping season. Retail employers should familiarize themselves with these guidelines, review their workplace policies concerning the holiday shopping season (or concerning other events where large crowds may gather), and ensure that their policies reflect these suggestions. The full guidelines can be found on OSHA’s website.

Part four of our holiday series, “Avoiding Mistletoe Mishaps, Part IV: 20 Tips For A Festive, Safe, Non-Litigious Office Holiday Party” will offer 10 tips on how to plan and throw a safe holiday party and 10 tips on whether and how to serve alcohol at a corporate party.

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