Black Friday is based on the premise that no one can resist a bargain. Drop the price by 30, 40 or even 50 percent and shoppers will line up at the door. Best Buy even touts its Black Friday sales as “door busters.” (I’m surprised their attorneys signed off on that one.)
Let’s not forget that “Black Friday” has its origins in the great stock market crash of 1869. While the current use of the term has shed the dark beginnings, there are still some ominous overtones. Any time you stir shoppers into a frenzy, bad things can happen. Back in 2006 a Walmart employee was trampled to death when a mob overwhelmed him at the front doors. Indeed, there is a website called Black Friday Death Count that tracks injuries and fatalities from across the world. To be sure, the numbers are relatively small: a total of 12 fatalities and 117 injuries since 2006. Nonetheless, the fact that these numbers are trackable reveals the potential dangers for employees and shoppers alike.
Mayhem versus Safety
From a shopper’s perspective, the danger begins and ends in the parking lot, where several fatalities have occurred. There have also been violent encounters as shoppers fight over valued items. But let’s focus on employees and the workers comp exposures unique to this event, which begin with unruly crowds at the door and extend through the tricky restocking of bulky, sometimes heavy items in the midst of the chaos; material handling, the highest risk in retail, becomes a nightmare under these circumstances.
There may also be an unusual comp exposure unique to this one day: injuries that on a normal working day might not be compensable under workers comp (for example, heart attacks or strokes) may well be covered by comp because the work environment on Black Friday is uniquely and relentlessly stressful.
Unless you enjoy chaos and frenzy (many do, I don’t), you might consider shopping online. Other than a possible website overload, the risks are minimal, the environment as cozy as your home and the end result pretty much the same. On the other hand, employees have no choice but to show up for work. To them I offer my sincere sympathies and the hope that they emerge unscathed at the end of a long, demanding day.
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant