by Michael Nossaman
Just out of college, in 1971 I worked as a writer for an advertising agency that had a number of retail clients. One of our clients, a small appliance retailer, wanted to do a Thanksgiving promotion. In keeping with the theme of the holiday, he decided to give away turkeys.
He could not afford to give everyone a turkey so our job was to come up with an idea to attract a large number of people but limit the number of free birds. The solution: throw a plastic turkey from the store’s roof and the lucky person to catch it could take it inside the store and exchange it for a real turkey.
Then we would take the plastic turkey back up to the roof and toss it in to the crowd again every few minutes for the next two hours.
Sound like a good idea to you? It was a near riot and disaster.
This is exactly the kind of dimwitted idea that OSHA had in mind when it issued its Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers on November 12, 2014.
The Guidelines begin with a reminder to retailers that “Crowd related injuries can occur during special sales and promotional events” and that a worker was trampled to death in 2008 at the opening of a “Black Friday” sale.
The Guidelines cover planning, pre-event setup, event procedures, and emergency situations. We didn’t do any of that. All we did was get a plastic turkey, a ladder for the owner to get to the roof, and blast radio and television with commercials for FREE TURKEYS!
Hundreds of people showed up and pressed as close to the storefront as they could. Traffic was backed up in four directions at the intersection of the store location. News crews rushed to the scene and went live only adding to the frenzy. The police responded but just to handle the traffic jam. They were not happy.
The OSHA guidelines “recommends that employers planning a large shopping event adopt a plan” to address the hazards of this type of crowd drawing promotion. It also reminds retailers that, “Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing their workers with safe and healthy workplaces.”
We were lucky in 1971 that no one was hurt, just one year after OSHA was enacted. OSHA had not yet written all the rules and regulations that cover the turkey tossing stunt we pulled. Those rules are on the books now, and OSHA’s recommendation to “adopt a plan” sounds like a warning too. To promote their guidelines, and make sure every retailer was on notice, OSHA sent letters to major retailers and retail trade associations reminding them of their responsibility.
Clearly, implementing a plan and procedures for crowd control is a job for security personnel and providers that cannot be ignored. The OSHA guidelines will surely serve as a checklist during any investigation that would surely follow an incident.
A printable PDF of the OSHA Guidelines can be downloaded below, or you can read them on the OSHA website.
GUIDELINES – OSHA Website