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OSHA official calls Wal-Mart's Black Friday plan inadequate

2008 -- NASSAU --

2008 -- NASSAU -- "Black Friday" stampede

NEWSDAY'S ORIGINAL COVERAGE: Read the story

A Wal-Mart worker in Valley Stream died after being trampled by customers who broke through the doors on Black Friday. Jdimytai Damour of Jamaica, Queens, was pushed to the ground by the 2,000-plus crowd just before 5 a.m. as management was preparing to open the store. After the fatal incident, Wal-Mart agreed to improve safety measures at its stores and remained open for 24 hours the following year to avoid the dangerous morning rush. (Nov. 28, 2008) Photo Credit: Nakea Augustine

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. should have seen the potential danger from the throngs at its Black Friday sales based on a 2007 incident at its Valley Stream store, where a year later a worker was trampled to death, a federal agent said yesterday.

Anthony Chiuffo, Occupational Safety and Health Administration area director for Long Island, fined the retailer $7,000 for the death. He testified Friday that at the post-Thanksgiving Day sale in 2007, the front door of the Walmart store was pushed off its frame by crowds of customers, and one employee suffered a minor cut.

"The employer had recognition of the hazard in previous years," he said, adding that the worker's cut was not severe enough to constitute a reportable offense. "That's the basis of why I signed the citation. The employer doing due diligence should have seen the hazard."

OSHA issued the fine after the death of Jdimytai Damour, 34, a seasonal maintenance worker who died after being trampled by crowds surging into the store for the post-Thanksgiving Day sales.

Chiuffo also testified that Wal-Mart's plan was "inadequate," but Wal-Mart contends the fine is based on "a standard that was neither posted nor proposed at the time."

Company representatives have said they are not objecting to the amount of the fine, but the principle of the violation. They are troubled by the precedent it sets.

But Chiuffo said the Valley Stream store's original plan for Black Friday lacked details on the chain of command and locations.

"It's not specific enough," Chiuffo said under cross-examination from Wal-Mart lawyer Jason Schwartz.

Schwartz questioned Chiuffo about his opinion that the Black Friday sale prices contributed to the crowds.

Chiuffo pointed out that Wal-Mart's flier for the 2008 sale advertised discounted 42-inch plasma televisions sets, with a note in small print that there would be a limit of five televisions available per store.

Schwartz asked Chiuffo about ways Wal-Mart could have avoided being issued the citation, including canceling the Black Friday sales for good. "That would be the easiest, yes," Chiuffo replied.

The hearing, which will continue next week, is being held in Manhattan before Judge Covette Rooney of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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