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Black Friday Safety Incidents - Business Preparedness

Every year, people across the United States set aside the Friday after Thanksgiving to shop. On Black Friday, retailers offer reduced prices to commemorate the official start date of the holiday shopping season, and sales events can bring out major crowds. In November of 2018, about 71% of holiday shoppers made a purchase in stores or online between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, according to a survey by Deloitte. Even though online shopping has made Black Friday sales more accessible, hundreds of people still wake up early to line up outside of store locations, hoping to take advantage of sale prices. Major crowds can present risks for retail workers and managers alike, and in the weeks leading up to the holiday, safety incident prevention and preparation should take priority. 

The enduring appeal of Black Friday may have a lot to do with potential chaos. Consumers often enjoy the thrill of fending off other shoppers in pursuit of a deal, or enjoy the immediacy of picking an item off the shelf and bringing it home. For employees, the holiday can be a hectic, and even dangerous, experience. Over the years Black Friday crowds have resulted in numerous safety incidents for both employees and shoppers. Employers have the responsibility to put together a comprehensive business preparedness plan to manage crowds on the busy retail day, training employees how to respond to an emergency and hire the appropriate security personnel. 

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In 2008, an employee at Wal-Mart was killed on Black Friday when an “out of control” crowd broke down the doors of a store in Long Island, New York, according to the Guardian. Many workers were injured attempting to reach and help the man, and four other people, including a woman who was 8-months pregnant, get to the hospital. Following the incident, law enforcement reported the stampede of shoppers could not be subdued, even following the employee’s severe injury, and that the store had not taken proper security measures. In 2011, a similar incident occurred in Southern California, when a woman pepper-sprayed shoppers in Wal-Mart on Black Friday, requiring firefighters to arrive on the scene to treat over 10 people, as per CNN. 

Luckily, Black Friday incidents are on the decline, due to raised awareness about crowd-related risks and the rise of online shopping. However, past incidents, from out of control crowds to customers using pepper spray, employers should be prepared for worst-case scenarios on the major shopping day. Retailers can better manage lines of eager, early-morning shoppers and any potential safety incidents by taking a proactive approach to crowd-control and emergency communication. 

What Are Black Friday Risks? 

Black Friday sales have become more manageable for employees, but crowds and rowdy shoppers still pose risks. In 2018, Matthew Ishak, a 21 year old employee for Wal-Mart, reported that he broke up a fight between a man who punched a woman in the face over a TV, according to the Washington Post. Ishak’s story is not uncommon among seasonal employees - and training workers how to deescalate potential confrontation is a must. It’s critical that employees understand risks and know how best to mitigate a confrontation without putting themselves, or other shoppers, in danger. Being transparent and communicating with customers, whose fear of missing out on deals has largely drove chaos over the years, can also reduce the risk of confrontation during the major shopping day. 

busy store people shopping

Similarly, one of the biggest concerns for businesses is crowd control or management. Employers safety and wellness programs should offer guidelines for avoiding injuries during the holiday shopping season, especially on Black Friday. In 2008, Wal-Mart failed to properly plan the appropriate security ahead of the sale, which led in part to the tragic death of the employee working at their Long Island branch. Since the event, Wal-mart began collaborating with crowd management experts and law enforcement to keep shoppers safe, according to the New York Times.Safety planning for can begin long before doors open the day of the sale - with crowd management, pre-event set up, and emergency protocol. 

Among the common Black Friday risks, slips, trips, and falls, which are one of the most common hazards in the retail industry. According to the National Safety Council, falls from height or falls from the same level resulted in 29,830 injuries and 29 deaths in the retail trade. If in a region with inclement weather, Black Friday sales can increase risks, as snow or rain from boots or other winter weather, as well as dropped items, increase the risk of a collision. 

Given how falls are 100% preventable, it’s important for a business to review safety tips, such as wearing comfortable, practical footwear, be conscious of fatigue, frustration, or burn-out throughout the day, and remain aware of surroundings, especially potential obstacles or debris. 

How Can Business Prevent Incidents? 

Each year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues a safety reminder for retailers on holiday shopping and crowd management safety. In 2019, following a year where violent shootings took place at retail facilities, taking the appropriate precautions is more necessary than ever. “With thoughtful planning and implementation of an effective crowd management action plan and maintaining emergency exits free of obstructions, we all can have a safe and happy holiday season,” an OSHA memo to retailers read in 2014. 


The OSHA “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines For Retailers” Fact Sheet focuses on crowd-related injuries which can occur during special sales and promotional events. OSHA recommends that employers planning a large shopping event adopt a plan which includes planning, pre-event set up, strategies for managing crowds during the sales event, and planning for emergency situations. Employers can better ensure safety on Black Friday by following tips from the OSHA Fact Sheet, but also throughout the holiday season. Find a few examples of OSHA’s safety and security reccomendations below: 


  • For Black Friday and any other day with a large crowd expected, hire additional staff as needed, as well as trained security or crowd management personnel and police officers on site 
  • Contact local fire and law enforcement to determine if the event site meets all public safety requirements, and ensure that all permits and licenses are obtained and that local emergency services, including the local police, fire department and hospital, are aware of the event 
  • Provide extensive training for workers on crowd-management and the emergency plan, provide an opportunity to practice ahead of time and include public service agencies in the drill 

Pre-Event Set-Up

  • Install barricades and rope lines that allow for orderly entry to the store 
  • Locate sales-items in different parts of the store to prevent overcrowding, and consider using an Internet lottery system for “hot-ticket” items 
  • Communicate any updated information with customers waiting in-line to prevent agitation. 

Emergency Situations 

  • Do not restrict egress, and never block or lock exit doors 
  • Keep first-aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available, and have personnel trained in using these tools on-site 
  • Instruct employees, in the event of an emergency, to follow instructions from authorized first responders 

Technology can also be a valuable tool for managing crowds during a Black Friday sale. A corporate safety app can help retailers engage directly with employees throughout the holiday season, providing, resources, safety assistance, and two-way communications. The app enables employees contact any department via text if needed, as well as receive geo-targeted push notifications throughout the day. 

Equipped with an emergency call button, employees will also be able to directly connect to 9-1-1 or security during an emergency. If a customer is becoming agitated or violent, the user can connect with security on-site or reach out to first-responders for medical assistance.The app will also provide first responders with location data, which can be critical during a situation with overcrowding. During an emergency, the app can reduce response time, further reducing the risk of employee injury. 

Corporate Safety App Guardian Demo

Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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