crowds.jpgI’ve been monitoring the Black Friday deals for a few weeks now as part of a new “Deal of the Day” section I’m writing for MSNBC.com and TodayShow.com, and I fear I may be contributing to what is expected to be holiday shopping hysteria later this week.

Already the airwaves, newspapers, and the Internet are bursting with endless, “never-before-seen” bargains. And whether these bargains turn out to be real or not, consumers can’t help but be caught up in the pre-Black Friday marketing push. I’ve talked to many deal-hunting hotshots in the past week, and they’re getting their game faces and cleats on for the big day.

In 2008, I wrote about a 34-year old Wal-Mart temp worker at a Long Island store named Jdimytai Damour who had hardly any training in dealing with crowds and was crushed to death by shoppers when the doors opened on Black Friday. His father Ogera Charles told me a year after his death that “there were too many people.” Of Walmart and the shoppers, he said, “they both could have done a better job.”

Turns out, retailers and consumers apparently aren’t doing a better job, because worker injuries during special sales events have actually increased in recent years.

Many workers are hopeful things won’t be as crazy, but they’re preparing for the worst. A worker at Sears told me yesterday she’s been asked to come into work at 3:45 am this Friday; and when I asked her how she felt about working she had a bit of fear in her eyes. “It will be okay,” she said, unconvincingly.

That’s why I decided to do a blog post to warn workers of the danger ahead. I’m not being an alarmist folks. Even the government is worried about worker safety amidst the buying bonanza expected this Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, and is warning retailers that if they don’t take precautionary measure to protect workers they are going to be in big trouble.

The warning that came from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier this month is among the sternness I’ve ever heard from OSHA in my many years covering labor. It was issued to 14 of the nation’s biggest retailers putting them on notice that if they don’t take steps to protect employers they could end up having to hand over some of their Black Friday profits.

“Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years,” said David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for OSHA. “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.”

Retailers are nervous about the uptick in enforcement, based on what I’m hearing from lawyers who represent employers. Two days after OSHA issued their warning, the National Retail Federation, the mouthpiece for the industry, coincidentally issued their own guidelines, that were similar to OSHA’s. “Planning for large crowds, especially those of Black Friday proportions, involves many dress rehearsals, a well-trained staff, and a solid and comprehensive list of priorities for all parties involved,” said Joe LaRocca, Senior Asset Protection Advisor of the Federation.

But the guidelines you should focus on are those from OSHA, the agency that enforces the nation’s safety laws. You can find them at this link, and also, here are some highlights:

* Where large crowds are expected, have trained security or crowd management personnel or police officers on site.

Train workers in crowd management procedures and the emergency plan. Provide them with an opportunity to practice the special event plan. Include local public safety agencies if appropriate.

* Contact local fire and police agencies 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.

*Ensure that barricade lines have an adequate number of breaks and turns at regular intervals to reduce the risk of customers pushing from the rear and possibly crushing others, including workers.

Workers also have to step up and make sure their employers are following the rules. If you’re going to be working on Black Friday at a retail store, take some time to read the guidelines on what’s expected from employers and speak up if your boss is disregarding the law. I know, the job market stinks right now and you may be feeling lucky you have a job, any job. But no paycheck is worth getting seriously injured or killed on the job.

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