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OSHA penalty upheld in trampling death of Wal-Mart worker

Shopper stampedes in your store that kill or injure workers are your responsibility.
That’s the message Chief Administrative Law Judge Covette Rooney of the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has given Wal-Mart for inadequate crowd management following a November 2008 trampling death of a worker at one of the company’s retail locations in New York.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration praised the ruling, which upholds a previous finding by the workplace safety enforcement agency.
Rooney upheld the citation and full penalty ($7,000) issued to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
“This is a win for both workers and consumers. It’s only fitting that today, on the 100th anniversary of the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City where 146 workers lost their lives, a judge affirmed OSHA’s right to use the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to enforce the law and protect the safety and health of workers,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.
“Today’s ruling supports OSHA’s position that, even in the absence of a specific rule or standard, employers are still legally responsible for providing a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death. If not properly managed by retailers, a large crowd poses a significant threat to the lives of workers and customers.”
In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management, concluding an investigation launched after a worker was trampled to death on Nov. 28, 2008, at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y. The worker was knocked to the ground and crushed by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers surging into the store for its annual “Blitz Friday” holiday sales event. OSHA’s inspection found that the store’s workers were at risk of being crushed by the crowd due to the store’s failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management practices. Those practices would have provided the store’s workers with the necessary training and tools to safely manage a large crowd of shoppers.
Under the OSH Act’s general duty clause, OSHA issued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. one serious citation for exposing workers to the recognized hazards of asphyxiation or being crushed by a crowd. The citation carried a proposed fine of $7,000, the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law. A violation is serious when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
“During the course of OSHA’s investigation, the company implemented crowd control measures storewide, and the National Retail Federation also promoted those practices to its members,” said Michaels. “We praise that action, and urge all retailers to implement crowd management practices ahead of future sales events likely to draw large crowds.”
Ted Carter/MBJ Staff


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One comment

  1. Wow.. The “general duty clause” in action. At the end of the day, the employer is totally responsible for providing a workplace that is free of hazards or potential hazards. Once you have addressed all of the standards you must take a step back and ask yourself: What could go wrong? Employers on on the hook no matter what but we need to prevent as much as we can as incidents impact the bottom line. That’s the bottom line I guess.

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