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2000-11-04
Atlanta, GA. Home Depot Clams Up Over Injuries

The national media has finally twisted the wrench on Home Depot's dangerous shopping environment, and the company is feeling the pressure. We have reported here on sprawl-busters for several years the serious injuries and even deaths at stores like Home Depot. (See 6/30/00, 7/20/00, 7/31/00 newsflash) In recent weeks, the LA Times, the SF Chronicle, CBS Evening News, ABCs 20/20, and Inside Edition, all have reporters working on "death from falling merchandise" stories. CBS ran their version last night. The response from Home Depot was swift: On October 30th. Art Blank, Home Depot CEO, sent out "An Urgent Message" to all his employees. Here are some exerpts of Blank's message: "News organizations have begun developing stories about store safety and falling merchandise in Home Depot and other warehouse retailers. The media's interest stems mainly from accidents -- some fatal -- that have occurred in our Home Depot stores...When these stories air, they may inspire local versions by TV stations and newspapers in your market. Store safety is likely to remain newsworthy for many weeks, or even months. Already, we are receiving calls from news operations throughout the U.S. and we should anticipate retailer interest from Canadian media....The media may speak with people who have something to gain from a story that portrays us unfairly, and might try to get footage of anything that will dramatize their claims. Reporters will look for any example of unsafe conditions (whether it is unsafe, or even looks unsafe) regardless of the circumstances. They could show up at any store, and some may enter with concealed cameras. And they will interview any associate who will speak with them (remember, reporters are customers, too.) Your first job is to keep unsafe situations from occurring, and correct unsafe situations if you see them. You should do this immediately -- even before serving customers." The memo then concludes by warning: "If you are contacted by a reporter about store safety (or any other issue), do not answer any questions, and do not allow them entry into the store. Immediately inform your store manager..."

What you can do: The genie is out of Home Depot's bottle, and "America's Most Admired Retailer" responds by telling its staff "do not answer any questions." For members of the press who want to save themselves some time, go right to Jerry Shields, Home Depot's PR flak-catcher. You can reach him on his cell phone at 770-331-0649. Home Depot says it has a "new Customer Bill of Rights", in which "customers are entitled to a safe store environment. Safety is our first priority, and we are constantly working to improve our safety procedures because no accident is acceptable." These words must ring hollow to the 41 year old man killed in July at a Danbury, CT Home Depot, or to the family of Janessa Horner, killed in a Twin Falls, Idaho Home Depot. So safety is first priority at Home Depot -- but don't ask them any questions about it. And remember: you are entering a working warehouse, keep a close eye on your kids. Finally, legislation is being filed in Massachusetts that would require such working warehouses to be posted as a hard hat area, and requiring customers and employees to be issued hard hats whenever heavy machinery, like forklifts, are being operated in shopping areas, and whereever merchandise is stored more than 10 feet high over the sales floor. The legislation will take its first hearing by February. The bill also requires annual reporting of serious customer injuries. For more details on the legislation, contact info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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