This week, shoppers will line up hours before the stores open, often in the middle of the night, to be the first in line for sales and bargains. Crowds rush the store as the doors open. "Black Friday", the gateway to the holiday shopping season, happens this week. However, the fun and festivities of the holiday season don't come without risks, especially on this day.
Back in 2008, a Wal-mart worker was killed on Black Friday after being trampled as the stampede of customers plowed through the store front doors. Four additional people were injured from the rush of the crowd. Since then, numerous injuries and even fatalities have been recorded as associated with activity from Black Friday.
NFPA 1, Fire Code, plays an important role in ensuring that facilities have in place the necessary measures to keep employees and shoppers safe, especially on the days with the heaviest crowds. The hazards associated with Black Friday are plentiful. First, egress can be obstructed by high demand merchandise and seasonal displays. The number of occupants in the building could quickly exceed the available egress capacity. Egress paths can become clogged with abandoned merchandise and shopping carts that shoppers leave behind. Check-out areas may be blocked off or clogged such that they cannot be used for egress. Exits, other than the main entrance/exit may be blocked or obstructed by merchandise, boxes and supplies. Crowds gathered at the entrance door can block egress for those inside the building.
The following provisions from the Code help businesses and enforcers address some of the hazards and risks associated with Black Friday and holiday shopping:
- Means of egress shall be continuously maintained free of all obstructions or impediments to full instant use in the case of fire or other emergency. This includes exit access, exits and exit discharge which may be outside of the building.
- No furnishings, decorations, or other objects shall obstruct exits or their access thereto, egress therefrom, or visibility thereof.
- Every door opening and every principal entrance that is required to serve as an exit shall be designed and constructed so that the path of egress travel is obvious and direct.
- Door leaves shall be arranged to be opened readily from the egress side whenever the building is occupied.
- The total capacity of the means of egress shall be sufficient for the occupant load thereof.
- Storage of combustible materials shall be orderly. (this includes ensuring that fire protection systems are not obstructed)
- Means of egress shall be marked (including exits and paths to get to the exits.)
Large retail stores and malls are generally classified as mercantile occupancies, however, on days like Black Friday, have characteristics much like that of an assembly occupancy: large crowds entering and egressing, threats of crowd crush, crowds unfamiliar with their surroundings the building's fire protection and egress systems, etc. Assembly occupancies require the presence of crowd managers to assist with orderly evacuation and to ensure that all occupants can leave the venue successfully in emergency and non-emergency events. They are trained to understand safety and security hazards that can endanger the public assembly, understand crowd management techniques, understand methods of evacuation and movement, and more. At least one trained crowd manager must be provided in all assembly occupancies. Where the occupant load exceeds 250, additional trained crowd managers or supervisors shall be provided at a ratio of 1 crowd manger or supervisor for every 250 occupants.
While crowd managers are not formally required for mercantile occupancies, it may be prudent for businesses to employ a model such as this to help with crowd control on days like Black Friday. This can only help to make sure that both their employees and occupants are kept safe upon entering and leaving the building. Additionally, OSHA has published a resource, "Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers" and states that it "encourages employers to adopt effective safety and health management systems to identify and eliminate work-related hazards, including those caused by large crowds at retail sales events." Crowd management planning is at the top of the recommendations provided by OSHA.
If you partake in Black Friday shopping, have fun but stay safe!