Why is Walmart spending a seven-figure sum to fight a $7,000 fine levied against it by Federal safety officials after the 2008 incident at a Valley Stream, N.Y., store that ended in an employee being trampled to death? Because they don’t want the government to tell them how to treat their employees, mannnn: “[In] fighting the federal fine, Wal-Mart is arguing that the government is improperly trying to define ‘crowd trampling’ as an occupational hazard that retailers must take action to prevent.” You mean, the government wants to tell retailers that maybe using the term “Blitz Line” when opening the floodgates for people in search of cheap DVD players might not be great for employees charged with handling crowd control?
OSHA levied the $7,000 fine in response to the death of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary employee, who died from asphyxiation when a stampede of post-Thanksgiving shoppers at a Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, N.Y., busted through the doors and trampled him just before the store’s 5 a.m. scheduled opening. The crowd, estimated at 2,000 people, had been lined up for hours near a handwritten sign that said “Blitz Line Starts Here.”
In May 2009, OSHA accused Wal-Mart of failing to provide a place of employment that was “free from recognized hazards.” Specifically, the agency said the company violated its “general duty” to employees by failing to take adequate steps to protect them from a situation that was “likely to cause death or serious physical harm” because of “crowd surge or crowd trampling.”
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, says that regulators are trying to enforce a vague standard of protection when there was no previous OSHA or retail industry guidance on how to prevent what it views as an “unforeseeable incident.”
“OSHA wants to hold Wal-Mart accountable for a standard that was neither proposed nor issued at the time of the incident,” said David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman. “The citation has far-reaching implications for the retail industry that could subject retailers to unfairly harsh penalties and restrictions on future sales promotions.”
“Unforeseeable”? Isn’t the whole point of a “Blitz Line” to rile people up? Doesn’t Walmart have enough metrics from every one of its outlets to see which items might rile people up, especially after they’ve awoken extra-energized from their deeply satisfying, tryptophan-induced Thanksgiving slumber?
Here is what I think Walmart is trying to say with that bit about “accountability” from the flack: “We’re afraid that OSHA is going to get on our cases next Thanksgiving, and with the economy being as lousy as it is and not getting much better we’re going to have to sell Blu-Ray players for 99 cents. So cut us some slack!”