Wednesday, November 21, 2012

OSHA, Thanksgiving and Black Friday Safety, Sales, and Protests

First off let me start by saying I totally oppose any store opening on Thanksgiving, even at midnight! Family is sacred! I am sure that the executives are not in their offices on Thanksgiving. More on the safety issues associated with this later. 


OSHA Sends Black Friday Safety Recommendations to Retailers

On November 14, 2012, OSHA sent major retail stores a letter with recommendations on how to keep shoppers and employees safe. (A copy of this letter can be seen here:) The violence reached a high in 2008 when a worker was trampled to death when a mob of shoppers rushed through doors of a New York Wal-Mart.

The U.S. Labor Department is urging retailers to step-up crowd control. OSHA’s recommendations include on-site security and police officers, emergency procedures in case of danger and not blocking or locking exit doors.


Black Friday Protests at Wal-Mart

To add fuel to the fire and increase the potential for workplace violence, Wal-Mart and other retailers are facing protest and demonstrations for opening Thanksgiving Day. 

Federal labor officials still have made no decision on a request by the world’s largest retailer to stop scheduled protests by a union-backed group on Black Friday outside its stores. Wal-Mart claims the demonstrations organized by OUR Walmart threaten to disrupt its business and intimidate customers and other store workers. OUR Walmart has filed its own claim with the labor board, saying the retailer has attempted to prevent workers from participating in legally protected walkouts. The group is protesting what it says are low wages for Wal-Mart workers, and increases in out-of-pocket costs for their health care.

Issues of Safety

So how is having workers work on Black Friday an issue of safety? OSHA requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace free of recognized hazards. So what are some of the hazards being associated with being open on Black Friday.

  1. Thanksgiving Day Fatigue:  Requiring employees to work Thanksgiving Day does not mean that they are going to cancel Thanksgiving Dinner for their family so they can sleep. They will just go without sleep, get up earlier and stay awake. Along with this will be feelings of anger (at employers and customers for being the reason that they have to work), depression and guilt (from being away from their families), and despair (because people who are working retail usually have limited options and this economy is not helping).
  2. Unusual or Extended Shifts: OSHA considers a normal work shift to last a period of no more than eight consecutive hours for five days of the week with at least an eight-hour rest period between shifts. Unusual or extended shifts may interrupt normal rest periods, thereby resulting in fatigue for the worker. Extended periods of fatigue can have physical manifestations, such as headaches, inability to concentrate or suppressed immune system as well as mental and physical stress. The administration recommends that employers "diligently monitor" night shift workers and learn to recognize signs and symptoms of shift-related health effects such as weariness, irritability, lack of concentration, depression and headache. An employer should evaluate employees who present such symptoms and possibly allow the employee to leave the area to seek rest. This is one of OSHA's web pages about unusual or extended shifts (link here).
  3. Employee Error: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicates that such hazards could potentially lead to employee error and occupational injuries. 
  4. Workplace Violence: "Crowd control and proper planning are critical to preventing injuries and deaths," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "OSHA urges retailers to adopt a crowd management plan during the holiday shopping season that includes a few simple guidelines. "Workplace violence is more than crowd control; angry customers because of a limited number of sales items, increased stress and anger due to fatigue that may lead to physical confrontations. In 2010, a shopper was arrested outside a Madison, Wis., Toys “R” Us after she allegedly threatened to shoot shoppers who objected to her cutting the line.
  5. Crushing Injuries: In 2008, roughly 2,000 shoppers stormed a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., trampling an employee to death.
  6. Slips, Trips, and Falls: People fighting for deals, rushing in the store as well as merchandise strewn about as shoppers "dig" for the best deals will cause slips, trips, and falls.
  7. Back Injuries: Black Friday is best known for deep discounts on large items:  high-definition (big screen) TVs, Barbie ride-on Jeep, and furniture. Shoppers not wanting to injure themselves ask that a store employee move heavy objects, with a shortage of employees, many times employees move large objects by themselves.
  8. Riots: Stores are trying to incite a frenzy by getting people excited about specials. This "momentum" can easily get away. It is like rolling a snowball down a mountain that causes an avalanche.

 Some of the Offenders Who Ruined Thanksgiving:

I usually don't mention companies who have erred by name, but I feel this deems it:

Thanks to retailers, Black Friday comes earlier each year. This year, some stores will roll out their Black Friday deals before the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleared. K Mart/Sears, Toys “R” Us and Wal-Mart deals will kick off at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night in most locations. Most Target stores will open at 9 p.m., HH Gregg opens its doors at 10 p.m. Kohl's, Best Buy, Bon-Ton and Macy's will open doors at most locations at midnight. Retail experts say it’s all meant to build up consumer demand for the day.

 Some of the Good Guys:

A number of stores will keep to early morning Black Friday openings. Staples will open at 5 a.m. So, too, will Lowe's and rival home improvement warehouse Home Depot. JCPenney and Burlington Coat Factory are among the last of the major retailers to wait until 6 a.m.

Still, in some states, Thanksgiving remains off limits for retailers. Most retail employees in Massachusetts and Maine, for example, are prohibited from working on Thanksgiving, which means many stores can’t open on that day. 

Safety Recommendations:

I can go through what to do as far as lifting, crowd control, etc. I will not, you can find that on OSHA's web site. I will leave you with this:

Do NOT open on Thanksgiving. Wait until 6 a.m. Black Friday. I will NOT shop on Thanksgiving Day. I will be with family. I pray that all of you who read this will have someone and the freedom to spend Thanksgiving with someone too.


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