Wal-Mart is giving federal regulators the runaround in fighting a $7,000 fine that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied against the retailer for circumstances that led to the trampling death of an employee in 2008.
The incident for which OSHA cited Wal-Mart occurred at a store in Valley Stream, New York. Approximately 2,000 people gathered around the store’s entrance in the early morning hours on Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping day that is widely considered to be the busiest shopping day of the year. Wal-Mart took no measures to control the impatient crowd, which had been gathering for hours near a sign that that said “Blitz Line Starts Here.”
When employees opened the store, anxious customers stampeded through the doors trampling 34-year-old employee Jdimytai Damour to death and injuring several others.
OSHA investigated the incident and found that Wal-Mart had failed to provide a place of employment “free from recognized hazards.” More specifically, OSHA said that the store violated its “general duty” to employees when it failed to take measures that would protect them from a circumstance that was “likely to cause death or serious physical harm” because of “crowd surge or crowd trampling.”
Wal-Mart has agreed to improve its crowd-control policies in all of its stores but it accuses OSHA of being vague and making up the rules as it goes along. The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, says that the government is inappropriately attempting to categorize “crowd trampling” as a workplace hazard that must be mitigated or removed.
The company has filed 20 motions and responses totaling nearly 400 pages and has spent at least $2 million fighting the $7,000 fine. The cost of Wal-Mart’s obstinacy to the federal government and American taxpayers is enormous. OSHA has had to devote much of its staff and time to the case, including 4,725 employee hours in the legal office – the equivalent of five full-time attorneys.
Wal-Mart says that the OSHA fine opens the door to more government regulation of safety practices within its own company and beyond. “The citation has far-reaching implications for the retail industry that could subject retailers to unfairly harsh penalties and restrictions on future sales promotions,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the New York Times.