The Bend eastside Safeway has been fined by Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failures in keeping emergency exits clear and properly training staff. But there is a lot more detail in the 212-page report about what Safeway did and didn’t do right.
The fines and the report come in the wake of the Aug. 28, 2022, shooting that resulted in two deaths before the gunman took his own life.
Hours after the shooting, OSHA — acting on a tip from an employee — wanted to know if operations at Safeway hindered escape from the store.
The OSHA investigation found that one of the only three back door emergency exits that night was blocked by hundreds of pounds of drinks and food on stretcher-sized carts.
As the gunfire rang out, security photos showed that customers and employees attempted to shove the carts clear of the exit, including a father with his toddler in a shopping cart.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note the investigation found that nothing the store did contributed to employee Donald Surrett Jr’s death at the back of the store as he chose to stay and attack the shooter. And customer Glenn Bennett’s death occurred at the front of the store, seconds after the gunman walked inside.
Some employees claimed to OSHA they had never been shown these exits. One employee described the emergency training as “It sucks. There’s no training on emergency exit routes in the store.”
A painted guide on the floor showing people the shortest path to an exit was worn to near-invisibility.
A long-time employee told investigators that the blocking of exit doors has been a systemic issue, and that “blocked exits and walkways have been a problem for well over 10 years” — one that repeated complaints never solved.
Once OSHA announced an inspection of the store just days after the shooting, Safeway asked for a delay. When OSHA asked Safeway corporate for documents, including its own employer investigation and storeroom security footage, Safeway missed the deadline.
That prompted a warning from OSHA’s senior safety compliance officer: “I will not be reasonably obstructed from conducting my investigation.”
Safeway eventually complied. But employees told investigators, in the meantime, that management at the store cleared out the back storage areas and repainted the emergency exit floor guides.
OSHA still found the store in violation of safety protocols, including a lack of adequate training and allowing emergency exits to be blocked on the night of the shooting.
The Bend Safeway store also offered all employees a 15-minute online course on how to react to an active shooter. Surrett took that course just a year before the shooting.
In a statement to Central Oregon Daily News, Safeway says it’s weighing its options on an appeal to the OSHA decision and minimal fine. It has until February 11 to decide. As for management’s response to constantly having thousands of pounds of product sitting in the rear of the store, the reason given to employees is that they just can’t hire enough workers to clear the area any quicker.