Safe retail shopping measures receive support

December 7, 2009
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LANSING — Looking forward to more holiday shopping? You might want to consider safety first.

Some lawmakers are pushing for the state to require shopper and employee protection policies to prevent injuries and deaths when shoppers flood into a store.

A bill by Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton Township, would require large retailers to implement safety and security measures for special sales, such as when they offer low prices on high-demand items in limited quantities for 72 hours or less. The legislation would apply to stores of 90,000 or more square feet and chains of six or more stores, Slavens said.

“It’s to make sure shoppers and employees are safe,” said Slavens. “If they’re worried, retailers should be working on this. If their stores are safe, it’s not an issue.”

However, retailers are already aware of potential problems and try to provide a safe shopping experience, and the bill would cost some businesses a significant amount of money, said Eric Rule, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Retailers Association.

Under the proposal, retailers would have to train their staff about crowd control, store safety and sales procedures.

Slavens said, “It’s up to those stores, but they might want extra security guards that day. If the doors are closed, they’d have somebody monitoring outside to make sure that there’re orderly lines.”

Under her bill, the safety and security measures would also include customer waiting areas outside the store, designated areas for the hottest items and posting of store policies and shopping procedures.

Slavens said retailers could coordinate with local authorities to prevent risks to public health and safety.

The proposal is in response to a 2008 Black Friday incident in Long Island, N.Y., where a crowd of 2,000 Wal-Mart shoppers broke down the front door and trampled a worker to death.

That day, three additional minor injuries occurred in the stampede. One victim was a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was knocked to the ground and taken to the hospital for observation, Nassau County police reported.

The trampled employee’s family sued Wal-Mart for failing to provide adequate security and creating an environment of mayhem that led to his death. Consequently, Wal-Mart agreed with federal prosecutors to pay nearly $2 million for improved crowd management plans for all its 92 New York stores to avoid criminal charges, according to Nassau County officials.

That wasn’t the first such stampede.

In 2005, a pregnant woman from Grand Rapids was trampled on Black Friday when a retailer’s doors opened and shoppers pushed their way in, Slavens said. The woman required medical treatment.

“We don’t want something like that to happen,” said Slavens.

One co-sponsor, Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, said there is significant potential harm from high shopper traffic at large stores.

“I wouldn’t say the bill targets certain retailers, but unmanageable crowds could happen anywhere,” said Miller.

Rule said retailers’ safety concern is growing since last year.

“They’ve got a lot of gates now, passing out refreshments like coffee or pop so people take time, and talking to customers out there and passing out vouchers, saying, ‘Hey, you’re one of the first 300 people so you’re going to get this item. But it’s on first-come, first-served basis. We’re going to give you this voucher so you don’t have to stampede and run back there,’” he said.

Rule said safety is a main consideration, but it doesn’t always have to be regulated by the state.

“Can you always make sure that every individual is going to behave how they should? No,” he said. “Retailers usually take adequate measures and do what they can to ensure that such incidents won’t happen.”

Miller said the legislation is intended to ensure that retailers prepare adequately for special events so it wouldn’t have a big financial impact on them.

“It’s narrowly targeted for certain circumstances,” said Miller. “We don’t want them to be micromanaged but would like to make them think about it and anticipate it. I think the precaution is worth it.”

The bill’s other co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. Mike Huckleberry of Greenville; Jon Switalski of Warren; George Cushingberry of Detroit; Douglas Geiss of Taylor; Jim Slezak of Davison; Lesia Liss of Warren; and Gabe Leland of Detroit.

The bill is pending in the House Commerce Committee.

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