Preparing Your Store for Holiday Shopping

Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years, both as certain products have become more popular and as people have tightened their budgets. Unfortunately, stories about crowd-related injuries and fatalities make the news every year.

OSHA requires that employers provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. As a result, OSHA encourages employers to adopt effective safety and health management tools to identify and eliminate work-related hazards, including those caused by large masses of people during busy shopping times such as the holiday season.

The guidelines in this article are designed to help your workers in avoiding injuries during a busy shopping season or another crowded event. Much like other preventive methods, crowd management planning should begin well in advance of the event or season.

If your facility anticipates a large crowd, consider the following planning guidelines well in advance of the event:

  • Where large crowds are expected, hire trained security and crowd management personnel or police officers to be on-site.
  • Create a detailed staffing plan that designates a location for each employee. Based on the size of the crowd expected, determine the number of employees that are needed at designated locations. These locations may include all entrances, dressing rooms, and near popular merchandise.
  • Ensure that employees are properly trained to manage the event.
  • Contact your local fire and police agencies to determine if the event site meets all public safety requirements. Also, ensure that all permits and licenses are obtained and that local emergency personnel is aware that the event is occurring.
  • Designate an employee to contact your local emergency personnel in the event that your event becomes unruly.
  • Provide legible and visible signage that provides entrance locations, store opening times and other pertinent information for customers.
  • Prepare an emergency plan that addresses potential dangers facing employees, including overcrowding, crowd crushing, being stuck within a crowd, violence, and fires. Share the emergency plan with your local public safety agencies.
  • Train all employees on your established crowd management procedures. Provide them with an opportunity to practice the special events plan well ahead of time. Consider also including your local public safety agencies, if necessary.
  • Keep first aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available, and have personnel trained in using AEDs and CPR.

Pre-Event Set Up Preparations

After you have made adequate preparations for your sales event, use these strategies to set up your facility:

  • Set up barricades or rope lines for crowd management well in advance of customer arrival. Ensure that the barricade lines do not start right at the entrance of the store, as this will allow for orderly crowd management entry and make it possible to divide crowds into small groups.
  • Ensure that barricade lines have an adequate number of breaks and turn at regular intervals to reduce the risk of customers pushing from the rear and possibly crushing others. This is a danger to your customers and employees alike.
  • Designate employees to explain approach and entrance procedures to your arriving customers. Employees should also direct them to lines or entrances.
  • Assure that employees working outside have radios or some other way of communicating with employees working inside. They should also have a way to communicate with emergency personnel if needed.
  • Consider using mechanisms, such as numbered wristbands or tickets, for early arriving customers so there is no fighting about a spot in line.
  • Consider using an Internet lottery for popular items to avoid a huge rush.
  • Place shopping carts and other potential obstacles or projectiles inside the store and away from the entrance. Do not keep these items in the parking lot.
  • Provide additional public amenities (e.g., toilets and sinks) if necessary.
  • Communicate updated information to customers waiting in line and distribute pamphlets showing the locations of entrances, exits and special sale items.
  • Remind crowds to remain calm shortly before opening your doors.

During Your Sales Event

During your sales event, be sure to pay attention to your employees and customer at all times, and keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure all employees and crowd control personnel are aware that the doors are about to open before they do.
  • Staff entrances with uniform guards, your local police or other hired authority personnel.
  • Use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd and to communicate information or problems.
  • Position security or crowd managers to the sides of entering and exiting pedestrians.
  • Provide crowd and entry management personnel at all entrances, including the ones that are not being used. Provide more than one entrance and exit, if possible.
  • When your location reaches maximum capacity, do not allow additional customers to enter until the occupancy level decreases.
  • Provide a safe entrance for those with disabilities and those pushing small children in strollers.

In an emergency situation, instruct your staff to remain calm, and to slowly escort customers out the door. Also, remind employees to follow the instructions of emergency personnel and first responders to reduce the risk of injuries to themselves and customers.