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Quick Guide to Crowd Management Safety

Every year around the holidays, retailers prepare for massive groups of people by hosting extravagant sales and staffing more employees. However, more needs to be done to keep both shoppers and employees safe, as the 2008 death of a retail worker due to the unruly crowd showed. That event and other incidents helped prompt the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to post and distribute guidelines on crowd management. While following the guidelines is not mandatory, failing to take adequate measures to protect employees can result in a large fine for the company in addition to making the workplace dangerous.

While Thanksgiving weekend sales receive most of the attention, dangerous crowd management situations can arise any time people gather, such as other big sales, grand openings, and other events. OSHA recommends employers planning such an event adopt a plan that includes the following elements.

Create an Action Plan

When you have an event coming up where you expect massive attendance, plan ahead by scheduling additional workers during that time and having trained security, crowd management personnel, or police officers scheduled to help. Have a thorough game plan in place with specific locations for workers, with concentrations around areas expected to be the busiest, such as near entrances and around any hot items.

Also train workers on how to handle the crowd; the earlier you start this process, the more you can repeat it so it sinks in better. Prepare clear signs pointing to entrances and exits, noting the time the store will open, and where main sale items and restrooms are. Designate a staff member to contact local emergency officials if something goes wrong, and assign a store manager to make important decisions as needed during the event. Having this mapped out ahead of time prevents delays caused by people wondering whose responsibility it is.

Prepare Thoroughly

The most dangerous time is prior to and right at opening. To best manage the waiting crowd, set up barricades or rope lines well before customers arrive. Make sure there are turns or breaks in the barricades to help prevent people in the back of the line from pressing against the people in front, and make sure the line doesn't start at the store entrance both to prevent crushing pressure from the line on those at the front and also to help you control the doorways. Make sure you have workers outside explaining the procedures to the arriving public and pointing them to where they need to go, and also to provide any updates as circumstances arise. If the risks still seem too great, consider providing wristbands or numbered tickets to people as they arrive so they don't have to stand in place in line. You can also use a lottery system for the most popular items to reduce the pressure on being at the front of the line. To avoid confusion and keep the doorway clear, use a separate staff-only entrance for employees, and have workers stationed there to keep customers out.

Control the Event

Make sure all workers know when the doors are about to open. Have the entrances staffed with uniformed guards, police, or other authoritative figures. Make sure any such staff, as well as all employees, are positioned to the side of main pathways customers will use, not in the middle of them. Use a loud speaker to communicate with the incoming crowd, letting them know any pertinent information and problems. Once the store reaches maximum occupancy levels, have staff prevent anyone else from entering until enough other customers leave. Make sure people with disabilities have a safe entrance and exit.

Deal with Emergencies

As part of your action plan created in advance, you should have designated employees to contact emergency personnel and make critical decisions as needed. Make sure they know who they should call. Have first-aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) readily available, and have staff trained in their use onsite. Do not allow any exit doors to be locked or blocked. In the case of an extreme situation, let all employees know the emergency personnel have primary authority that exceeds company rules.

Following these ideas can help not only reduce the risk of serious injury or death, but also keep stress levels down for both employees and customers. That allows your employees to be more helpful and turns happy customers into paying customers.

For the complete OSHA guidelines, see their fact sheet.