NEW YORK (TheStreet) --There isn't a Black Friday discount deep enough to cost a consumer or store employee his or her life, which is what retailers and regulators are trying to make clear this year.
After Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary employee at a
in Valley Stream, N.Y., died from asphyxiation when a crowd trampled him on Black Friday in 2008, store safety got a strong second look. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Wal-Mart $7,000 for the incident -- a decision Wal-Mart is appealing -- and created a
crowd-control fact sheet
for retailers to prevent more deaths.
OSHA's fact sheet recommends that stores train security personnel or police officers on-site, erect barricades or rope lines for pedestrians, control crowds in advance of customers' arrival, place the customers' line away from the entrance of the store, put emergency plans in place should something go awry, and have security personnel or customer-service representatives explain entry procedures to shoppers.
This year, OSHA sent its fact sheet directly to the chief executives of Wal-Mart,
Toys R Us
as a friendly reminder that they are still responsible for employees' general safety on the biggest shopping day of the year.
"Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years," Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary for OSHA, said in a statement. "Many of these incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd-management plan, and this fact sheet provides retail employers with guidelines for avoiding injuries during the holiday shopping season."
The National Retail Federation found OSHA's fact sheet so useful that it incorporated its suggestions into its own
. Composed in the wake of the Wal-Mart incident, the NRF's guidelines combine input from retailers, mall-security professionals and law enforcement to address staffing, training, store layout, line control and emergencies. More importantly, the guidelines seek impoved communication between store employees, the retailers' representatives and consumers and the retailer and local law enforcement.
"The incident in 2008 was a tragic loss and not the way our industry wanted to start Black Friday weekend, considering 2008 was a tough year already," says Joe LaRocca, senior asset-protection adviser for the National Retail Federation. "We recognized that the communication we'd been doing all along needed to be stepped up a level."
That's just one of the lessons Wal-Mart took away from Black Friday 2008. In a settlement with the Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney, the company adopted new crowd-management techniques at its 92 stoes in New York state. That new approach spread to Wall-Mart's other locations as the company addressed how its customers enter the store on Black Friday, how they navigate it, find promotional items and how they leave.
Some Wal-Mart locations will be open 24 hours on Black Friday, with the first items available as early as midnight. As of Saturday, Wal-Mart has provided ZIP code-sorted Black Friday store layouts on its Web site, complete with the locations of discounted merchandise and suggested entrances for shoppers who want to get to the goods more quickly.
"We know we have customers who are excited and want to get through the whole store and see as much as they can, and it's something they look forward to as a tradition," says Greg Rossiter, spokesman for Wal-Mart. "There are also people who want to get in, get the product they want and get home."
Other retailers have streamlined the security process even further. While some retailers held Black Friday-type sales back in October and others are making this Black Friday a multi-day event to combat the consumer crush, there's a segment of the retail population that believes the solution to Black Friday security is getting it right
an incident forces change.
Sy Paulson, a manager at Best Buy's Union Square location in New York, has worked six Black Fridays between his current location and another in Upstate New York, without any hiccups. He credits Best Buy's Black Friday security protocol, which allows only staggered groups of 40 to 50 people to enter his store at a time, with most of his good fortune.
While Paulson's Best Buy still has to bring in about a half-dozen third-party security guards to deal with the crowds, which stretched two and a half blocks from the store on Black Friday 2008, he says Best Buy's line organization takes much of the burden off his shoulders. At 3 a.m., Best Buy employees go out to talk to people in line to see what they want to buy. Those looking for Best Buy's most deeply discounted "doorbuster" deals get a ticket ensuring they'll get the item they came for without having to elbow someone for it.
"When you prepare like that and all the safety and security is in place, for me it's always been the most fun day of the year and my favorite day of the year as a Best Buy employee," Paulson says. "That's because it always runs so smoothly."
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.