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Risk in Context

Keeping Employees and Customers Safe During Holiday Sales Events and Beyond

Posted by Mac Nadel November 24, 2015

With Thanksgiving preparations underway, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its annual “Black Friday” sales guidance in an effort to keep retail employees safe and reduce injuries during the holiday shopping season.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of incidents involving serious injury — and even death — to customers and employees during the “Black Friday” sales period. The potential for workplace injury or violence dramatically increases amid additional holiday season foot traffic, longer hours of operation, employee and customer fatigue and stress, and recent terrorist threats.

Protecting Employees and Customers

Employers and store owners concerned about protecting employees and customers as well as their facilities should be developing and implementing their crowd control and crisis management plans ahead of their first holiday sales events. Here are a few key considerations:   


  1. Communicate the company’s crowd-control and crisis management plan to all of your locations and ensure that site-specific plans are endorsed by local management, including security.
  2. Ensure that site-specific emergency plans address overcrowding, crowd crushing, assaults, and fire. Plans also should address how the location should communicate with customers and local authorities and identify an employee who will serve as point of contact for all communications.
  3. Properly train employees to respond to emergencies.
  4. Provide legible and visible signs that describe entrance locations, store opening times, and other important information such as the location of major sale items.


  1. Set up barricades or rope lines well in advance of customers arriving at the store, ensuring sufficient space between the customer line and store entrance.
  2. Ensure outside personnel have radios or another way to communicate with inside personnel and emergency responders.
  3. Use numbered wristbands, tickets, or an online lottery to provide earlier-arriving/eager customers with first access to sale or hot items.
  4. Communicate updates to customers in line. Distribute pamphlets showing the location of entrances, exits, and special sales items.


  1. Ensure all employees and crowd control personnel are aware that the doors are about to open.
  2. Use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd and to communicate information or problems.
  3. Position security or crowd managers to the sides of entering (or exiting) public — not in the center of their path.
  4. When the store reaches maximum occupancy, do not allow additional customers to enter until the occupancy level drops.


  1. Do not restrict egress and do not block or lock exit doors.
  2. Remain calm and provide customers or employees with assistance as needed.
  3. Know in advance whom to call for emergency medical response.
  4. Keep first aid kits and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) available and on-site personnel trained in their use and in CPR.
  5. Instruct employees to follow instructions from authorized first responders, regardless of company rules.

These and other actions as outlined by OSHA will help you keep your employees and customers safe at the start of and throughout the holiday season.

Mac Nadel

Mac Nadel is the Retail/Wholesale, Food & Beverage Industry Practice Leader (IPL) for the United States. Mac has been in various leadership roles within the Retail/Wholesale, Food & Beverage Industry Practice of Marsh for the past twelve years, and has been the National IPL since October 2009.