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'Black Friday' shoppers beware: inadequate security can harm you

Five years ago, a 34-year-old temporary security guard with one week on the job was trampled to death by a “Black Friday” crowed at a Walmart store in Valley Stream, which is in Nassau County. According to reports, he was the only security guard at the store’s entrance that day, and he was trying to hold the doors closed as an excited, unruly crowd pushed forward, impatient for the store to open. The door came off its hinges and the crowed swarmed in, trampling him and injuring several employees who tried to save him.

Crowd control is a science, but many stores don’t bother with it, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited that store for failing to control unusual, but not unforeseen, crowds. This has become enough of a problem that OSHA now sends out an annual reminder to major retailers across the nation to set up a detailed crowd control plan before Black Friday.

While the case of the New York security guard is the only known fatality caused by inadequate security on Black Friday specifically, lack of crowd control at big sales is a major problem. Black Friday is notorious because it is the biggest shopping blitz in the U.S., but any sale offering extremely low prices on limited quantities of popular items can draw huge crowds -- and a frenzied crowd can easily become dangerous.

What can you do to avoid being injured while shopping on Black Friday? The crowd control tips sent out by OSHA may be intended for retailers, but knowing them could allow you to see the potential danger for crowd mayhem. Things to look for include:

  • Barricades or rope lines should be several feet back from the doors.
  • There should be clear signage or clearly-explained entrance procedures that discourage line-cutting, such as numbered tickets being given out when people first get in line.
  • Enough trained security guards or police officers to should be on hand control the crowd.
  • Shoppers shouldn't be limited to a single entrance.
  • Exit doors should not locked or blocked off.

If a store you’re considering during your blitz has inadequate security or hasn’t implemented crowd control mechanisms, you might want to avoid choose another option.

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