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Feds to retailers: Have a safe Black Friday, or else

Regulators are warning the nation's top retailers to ensure the safety of their workers on Black Friday in the face of what could be a rush for holiday deals.

Regulators are warning the nation's top retailers to ensure the safety of their workers on Black Friday in the face of what could be a rush for holiday deals in a tough economic environment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a strongly worded letter to merchants such as Target, Macy's, Wal-Mart and JC Penney, among others, saying retailers should take precautions to prevent workers from getting injured on the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

"I am writing this letter to emphasize how critical it is to consider the safety of employees and customers during the upcoming holiday retail season," said the letter from David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. The letter links to a series of steps the retailers should take including planning, pre-event setup, what to do during the sales event and how to handle an emergency.

Two years ago a worker at a Walmart in Valley Stream, N.Y., was trampled to death in the early morning hours of Black Friday during a doorbuster sale. Four other people were injured in the rush for bargains.

Already the airwaves, newspapers, and the Internet are bursting with endless, "never-before-seen" bargains. Whether these bargains turn out to be real or not, penny-pinching consumers are likely to be caught up in the pre-Black Friday marketing push.

The worker killed in 2008, 34-year-old Wal-Mart temp Jdimytai Damour, 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, said a year after his death that Wal-Mart and shoppers "both could have done a better job."

The warning sent from OSHA this month is among the sternest ever. 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 face a citation.

Wal-Mart settled a case with the Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney, agreeing to adopt new crowd-management techniques for its New York state stores, create a $400,000 fund for customers injured in the stampede and donate $1.5 million to community programs in the county.

"Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years," said Michaels. "Many of these incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd management plan."

Retailers are concerned about the uptick in enforcement. Two days after OSHA issued their warning, the National Retail Federation issued its own similar guidelines. “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 adviser for the industry group.