Employers Should Prepare to Manage Black Friday Shoppers for the Safety of their Employees

Today Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, most commonly by sharing a turkey dinner with family and friends. Afterwards, many will partake in the shopping tradition known as Black Friday. Once midnight hits, stores traditionally open their doors to reveal amazing sales to their eager patrons; to those who are willing to rush out of their homes after Thanksgiving Dinner and battle their way towards in-store sales.

If you’ve ever seen video footage of Black Friday shoppers online or on television, it is incredible. You see men, women and children rushing – often running – into stores. Oftentimes you see them preparing to pounce at the doors, panting and looking around at their competition in a zombie-like state before lunging past sales staff and racing down aisles to find the key items they seek. You can hear the panic, see the desperation and imagine just how fast a situation can escalate to the point of danger.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve experienced the shopping phenomenon first hand. I enjoy a deal as much as the next person. Similar to many others who live in Greater Vancouver, I cross the border into Washington State often to take advantage of the variety of goods and low prices available in the American market.

I have to say, in reference to the deals available on Black Friday, they do not disappoint. There are discounts offered on brand name goods – discounts on top of discounts in addition to giveaways depending on the stores you visit.

Although the stores that I explored in Washington State were ridiculously crowded with shoppers and their children, I never felt like I was in danger.  I do remember seeing cars parked on grassy patches in the parking lot, and my brother remarking “at what point do people stop being human, and turn into animals?” referring to their lack of respect for the property.

Knowing that the shoppers around me were high on adrenaline, exhausted from the events of the day, and may even be planning to drive back across the border without having slept at all that night, I recognize that we were all lucky to have avoided danger that evening. Unfortunately others have not been so lucky over the years.

Without fail, there are always shoppers who are trampled, and seriously injured because of the panic that spreads throughout the crowd. I don’t think it’s outrageous to say that employers need to make it a priority to protect their employees on Black Friday. It’s a tradition that comes around every year, and so there’s no excuse for neglecting to prepare an evacuation or crowd management plan.

Angry viewers break video screen by throwing bottles, luckily missing videographer on the right.

I live in Vancouver, BC and I’m a proud Vancouverite. I watched the 2011 Stanley Cup Final downtown. I’ve seen how the mood of an excited crowd can suddenly turn an event from invigorating to terrifying within a short period of time.

Before I continue, I want to be clear: the post-Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver in 1994 and 2011 were despicable acts carried out by foolish criminals. It was an expensive embarrassment for the City of Vancouver, and a display of blatant childishness by all those responsible for physically damaging the city and its reputation.

I work in Downtown Vancouver, and am responsible for staff in one of the downtown establishments close to where the riots took place. I was downtown the night of the riot because I chose to watch Game 7 outside with an optimistic crowd. I wasn’t in the thick of things when fires were lit and the streets turned to hell because as soon as the Canucks lost, I lost all reason for being in the area. There was no reason to celebrate with the crowd, and as soon as the mood turned to anger, I moved with my party to a different area of town.

After an hour or so, my phone lit up with urgent messages demanding that I respond immediately. It was flooded with messages from my friends and family who were watching the city in torment on the news. I was enjoying dinner in another part of town, completely unaware of what was going on blocks away.

Once people began telling me about the fires, the crowds and the police activity, my first thoughts went to the staff that I could have been responsible for that night. As it was, co-workers of mine did an amazing job keeping our staff safe, and supporting all people present on our property.

Georgia Street After Canucks Lose Stanley Cup Final

When I see Black Friday videos, that’s what my mind returns to. You don’t know when a celebration may turn into a riot, and when an argument may turn into a charge of manslaughter. There were no deaths associated with the post-Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, but there have been deaths connected to Black Friday.

In countless Black Friday videos, you can hear the panic in the voices of employees present. Can you imagine showing up for work, being exhausted because you’re working during the busiest time of the year, and then to confront a mob for the duration of your shift?

Anyone who has ever worked in a customer service role can sympathize, and anyone who has ever dealt with angry customers can sympathize also. To deal with crowds of people is to be expected in a retail position. But to be expected to act professionally in the face of danger is asking too much if your employer has failed to find ways to ensure your safety on the jobsite.

I have yet to come across a public report that references the injury of an employee on Black Friday, and as a human resources person, I hope I never do.

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