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More stock, fewer employees causing safety concerns at some Maine stores

The South Portland Fire Department said a shortage of workers at local stores is making it difficult for some businesses to properly organize inventory.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — If you choose not to procrastinate, you may be thinking about this year's holiday shopping. Local officials are warning business owners and consumers, though, that a surge in shoppers and inventory are raising some safety concerns.

Robb Couture is the public information officer for the South Portland Fire Department. He told NEWS CENTER Maine that more shoppers and more items in stock in stores, combined with a shortage of workers across the board, has created sort of a "perfect storm." There aren't enough people to take care of freight, so items are blocking aisles and exit ways and creating a safety hazard.

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Couture said in some cases, inventory is just being held in boxes, crates, or totes on the floor, and all storefront types are being affected. That includes convenience stores, drug stores, big-box stores, and strip malls.

"We want to make sure people are safe, and we want to make sure they can safely exit a building if there's an emergency," Couture said. "It's really important to keep those emergency exits clear, so [people] have access to exit a building if anything were to happen. It doesn't have to be a fire. It could be a gas leak. It could be any sort of emergency at all."

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Couture wants to make one point clear: This PSA isn't meant to cause harm or stress to any local businesses. It's designed to help them and raise awareness.

"I mean, we want all of our businesses to do well. We don't want to penalize anybody," Couture said. "We understand it's a holiday season. We understand there's staffing shortages. We're not trying to make their lives harder."

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Couture said business owners with questions or concerns can call the South Portland Fire Department at 207-799-3314. He offered business owners solutions including sharing employees, sharing storage space, or getting extra storage space offsite.

Couture said the South Portland Fire Department does increase its inspections through the holiday season, so crews will likely be visiting stores more frequently. 

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