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2001-05-17
Boston, MA. Falling Merchandise Bills Get Hearing

On May 16, 2001, the Massachusetts General Court's Committee on Commerce & Labor held hearings on legislation regarding "falling merchandise" at working warehouse stores. Here is the account of that hearing as prepared by the State House News service: "Saying thousands of people nationwide are being hurt each year by falling merchandise, consumer advocates are pushing the state to adopt new injury reporting requirements for 'big box' retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart and maybe a provision to make customers wear hardhats. Al Norman, author of the book 'Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart' and head of the group Sprawl-Busters, told the Commerce and Labor Committee today that in the last 18 months, three people, including a toddler, have been killed in Connecticut, Idaho and California by items that fell off Home Depot's tall 'sky shelves.' Norman said three Massachusetts residents have contacted him to report being injured at 'big box' retailers, but they would not testify at today's hearing on the advice of their lawyers. While none of the retailers is required by law to make public reports on injuries and deaths, Norman said he's ascertained through examining court documents that 17,000 injuries occur nationwide each year."People are literally dying to shop at places like Wal-Mart and Home Depot," Norman said. "These stores have in fact given new meaning to the term shop till you drop." Norman urged passage of a bill (H 1164), sponsored by Rep. John Slattery (D-Peabody) requiring injury and death reports from retailers that use heavy machinery, including forklifts, during normal business hours, or retailers that place merchandise on shelves higher than 10 feet off the floor.Many injuries occur when forklift operators place merchandise on high shelves, accidentally pushing other items off the shelf and into the opposite aisle, Norman said. He suggested amending the bill to ban the use of heavy machinery during peak shopping hours from 8 am to 8 pm. Grocery stores do their stocking during the night shift, he said.Also on the day's agenda was a bill (H 2654) to require customers to wear hardhats in warehouse-style retail establishments. Lead sponsor Rep. Chris Hodgkins (D-Lee) said in a statement that if retailers want to set up their stores in a potentially hazardous manner, the 'burden' is on them to provide safety gear. "None of us would step onto a construction site without adequate headgear," Hodgkins said. Boston lawyer Moss Sidell, representing the International Council of Shopping Centers, opposed the hardhat proposal. He said hardhats might not prevent serious injuries, but would subject people to a host of communicable diseases if not properly cleaned. "It's a sanitary problem," Sidell said. "It seems to me it's quite an impractical thing to ask people to do." The Retailers Association of Massachusetts opposed both bills. General Counsel Kevin Mulvey said the hardhat idea is an anti-business measure that would force people to shop in New Hampshire. The reporting bill, as written, is 'vague' in terms of who would have access to the information, and what it would be used for, he said. "The main issue of concern is that this is going to be used in terms of litigation, which is extremely expensive," Mulvey said.The committee seemed concerned about the injury data, while looking askance at the hardhat proposal. Chairman Sen. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) said he understands the "symbolic attraction' of hardhats, but doesn't think it's the solution. It would not, for instance, have protected the Idaho toddler from being crushed by a stack of falling countertops," he said. But Lynch said he sees "great value" on limiting the hours of heavy machinery operation to non-peak shopping times. Lynch, who used to work in a warehouse, went further and suggested banning children under a certain age from entering the stores at all."This is a warehouse. It's a place of work," Lynch said. "It's not a place to just cruise around and do a little shopping."

What you can do: The Commerce & Labor committee will look at redrafting the legislation for further action by the General court. Similar legislation has been filed in California, and was recently favorably reported by a legislative panel there. For details on either the Massachusetts or California bills, contact info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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