J.R. Moody

With the holiday season underway, this is the time of year when it’s important to shed additional light on the safety hazards involved with large crowds. Crowd management has been of particular interest since the 2008 death of a retail worker who was trampled during a Black Friday retail event. Since then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has paid extra attention to the development and distribution of crowd management training and guidelines.

Effective crowd management focuses on both the safety of attendees and employees and the protection of your business’ physical assets. Hazards during the assembly of a large crowd are presented by the crowd itself and the establishment. Common hazards associated with the crowd include crushing (between people and against fixed structures), aggressive behavior, surging and swaying, trampling underfoot, and hazardous behavior such as climbing structures and throwing objects. Hazards associated with the establishment can include slips, trips, and falls, equipment failure, fire sources, structure collapse, choked crowd movement (due to congestion near restrooms or food/drink venues, for example), moving vehicles or equipment sharing space with pedestrians, and obstructed entry and egress.

Proper planning is key in managing a crowd. Before an event, businesses should perform a thorough hazard assessment to determine safety risks in the establishment. Respond to any known safety hazards appropriately; remove obstructions from walkways and supply extra garbage receptacles to reduce the amount of potential floor debris, for example. Hire and/or schedule additional general work staff and members of security/law enforcement as necessary.  Also contact your local fire and police departments to ensure your establishment meets all public safety requirements, and that all permits and licenses are obtained.

Employees should be trained in crowd management procedures and your company’s emergency response plan. Designate employees to stations throughout the establishment so they are able to focus on a particular zone and do not become overwhelmed, and assign key members of management to make snap decisions and contact emergency responders if necessary. An emergency plan needs to cover potential dangers such as fire, overcrowding, crushing, and fire. Employees must be able to maintain communication with one another throughout the event – two-way radios are generally sufficient. Ensure there is plenty of visible signage to indicate important locations such as entries, exits, and restrooms.

The use of barriers may be a necessary addition to your crowd management controls. Barriers serve a number of purposes, such as managing the behavior of a crowd, controlling the flow and movement of lines, preventing overcrowding, general security, and shielding attendees from safety hazards. While barriers are effective and generally recommended, be sure to take their own hazards into consideration. Factors to consider are loads on the barrier (crowd pressure and wind), the size of the audience, topography, and layout.

Events that conclude without incident are the result of professionalism and trained personnel, but emergencies can arise regardless of how well you’ve prepared. Employees should know who to contact for emergency medical response, and should follow emergency responder instructions regardless of company policies. First-aid kits, Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) and fire extinguishers should be located throughout the establishment, and employees should be trained on their uses.

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