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By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/23/2010 3:57:53 PM ET 2010-11-23T20:57:53

Regulators are warning the nation's top retailers to ensure the safety of their workers on Black Friday in the face of what could be a rush for holiday deals in a tough economic environment.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a strongly worded letter to merchants such as Target, Macy's, Wal-Mart and JC Penney, among others, saying retailers should take precautions to prevent workers from getting injured on the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

"I am writing this letter to emphasize how critical it is to consider the safety of employees and customers during the upcoming holiday retail season," said the letter from David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. The letter links to a series of steps the retailers should take including planning, pre-event setup, what to do during the sales event and how to handle an emergency.

Two years ago a worker at a Walmart in Valley Stream, N.Y., was trampled to death in the early morning hours of Black Friday during a doorbuster sale. Four other people were injured in the rush for bargains.

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Already the airwaves, newspapers, and the Internet are bursting with endless, "never-before-seen" bargains. Whether these bargains turn out to be real or not, penny-pinching consumers are likely to be caught up in the pre-Black Friday marketing push.

The worker killed in 2008, 34-year-old Wal-Mart temp Jdimytai Damour, had hardly any training in dealing with crowds and was crushed to death by shoppers when the doors opened on Black Friday. His father, Ogera Charles, said a year after his death that Wal-Mart and shoppers "both could have done a better job."

The warning sent from OSHA this month is among the sternest ever. It was issued to 14 of the nation's biggest retailers, putting them on notice that if they don't take steps to protect employers they could face a citation.

Wal-Mart settled a case with the Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney, agreeing to adopt new crowd-management techniques for its New York state stores, create a $400,000 fund for customers injured in the stampede and donate $1.5 million to community programs in the county.

"Crowd-related injuries during special retail sales and promotional events have increased during recent years," said Michaels. "Many of these incidents can be prevented by adopting a crowd management plan."

Retailers are concerned about the uptick in enforcement. Two days after OSHA issued their warning, the National Retail Federation issued its own similar guidelines. “Planning for large crowds, especially those of Black Friday proportions, involves many dress rehearsals, a well-trained staff, and a solid and comprehensive list of priorities for all parties involved,” said Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser for the industry group.

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Video: Despite economy, Americans plan to shop

  1. Closed captioning of: Despite economy, Americans plan to shop

    >>> back here while millions are planning to travel over the thanksgiving holiday, millions more are certainly planning to do some shopping. the national retail federation predicts 138 million americans will hit stores over the weekend. that's up actually about 3% from last year. the group also predicted americans will spend more than $447 billion on holiday shopping this year. that would be moderate 2% to 3% increase over last year. got to tell you, i'm curious how these stores will make money because i've already seen 40% off sales and it's not even thanksgiving. and this is from high end stores to more moderate retailers.

    >> certainly retailers are pulling out all the stops. this is the big week for the retail industry as they get ready for black friday and the days after thanksgiving. retailers are started doing sales as early as halloween, but the important thing to remember is that these sales were planned. these are discounts that they had planned in advance, they're investing in price as they put it in order to get customers in the doors and they're hoping that with enough sales, enough people will come in the doors and it that will make a very happy holiday season.

    >> but it does make you wonder when you start off at 40% and 60% off, where do you go from there. basically free in some cases. but i'm interested in this new movement to bring attention to small businesses . i believe it's american express and some others who have really said give local businesses the mom and pop stores in your area a chance.

    >> small businesses have long been overshadowed by the big box retailers. most people are lining up outside of best buy or walmart, so small businesses have had a hard time competing with that. this year am ex-launched small business saturday and they're encourages people to shop at their local mom and pop retailers. several cities have gotten on boston, d .c. small businesses account for about two-thirds of new jobs that are created, so the idea is if you can help small businesses , you can also help the economy, as well.

    >> thank you very much. cyber monday will be perhaps huge, as well.

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