Thoughts the next time you are on an escalator
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are more than 17,000 injuries on escalators each year. Shockingly, escalators result in approximately 30 deaths each year. A majority of escalator injuries happen to children, for reasons I will explain shortly. Injuries from escalators range in severity from cuts and bruises to amputation of fingers and toes. The main types of injuries are from entrapment and from falls. We have handled many escalator cases over the years and, with this article, we hope to give you warning for the next time you are on an escalator.
By far the largest category of injuries comes from entrapment of fingers and toes. Escalators are relentless machines which will not stop if something gets in their way. While there is an emergency shut off switch at the top and bottom of each escalator, this safety device will be ineffective if a finger or toe becomes entrapped. There are several areas of the escalator where entrapment is most common. Entrapments occur between escalator steps, between the side of the escalator step and “skirt” along the interior sidewall of the escalator and at the combplate at the top and bottom of escalators.
It is easy to suffer a fall on an escalator. They travel at the same speed, regardless of the abilities of the person trying to get on or off the escalator. Elderly people and children may need more time to safely get on or off an escalator, but once again, an escalator is unforgiving. Escalators can travel at different speeds and some run faster than what is safe. Escalators must also run smoothly. If an escalator jerks suddenly, or stops running, it can result in a fall. Due to their design, escalator steps have a sharp metal edge which can cause serious injury if someone were to fall on it.
Fortunately, there are regulations in effect which cover escalators. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Escalator Committee have established standards for escalators. However, many escalators do not meet these standards. For example, ASME/ANSI standard states that each escalator step should have “painted foot prints” or “brightly colored borders.” Take a look the next time you ride an escalator and you will notice most do not have these markings. ASME A17 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators requires that adjacent escalator steps be “in mesh” during operation. But gaps between steps is common on escalators. The ASME standard allows the gap with the interior sidewall to be 3/16 of an inch but many escalators have gaps larger than this width. Even older escalators which were installed before the new standards promulgated in the 1990’s can be retrofitted to make them safe. Finally, the code requires that the combplate teeth (the plate at the top and bottom of the escalator where you step on and off) mesh with the tops of the escalator steps. If a combplate tooth is broken, missing or bent, the escalator should be taken out of service until repaired or replaced.
Regardless of regulations, it is important to operate escalators safely. Manufacturers, maintenance companies and owners of escalators must take responsibility for the safety of escalators. Manufacturers have made great strides in designing and building safer escalators over the years. Say what you will about trial lawyers, but the threat of litigation over injuries has resulted in safer escalators. Escalators need regular maintenance. The gears, chain and motor experience wear and tear and can result in a misalignment or malfunction. Most maintenance companies contract with escalator owners to provide regular inspection and repair of escalators on a contract basis. It is important that everyone take all necessary steps to ensure the safe operation of escalators.
People take escalators for granted and expect that they will transport them safely from one floor to another. But escalators can present a serious risk of harm. As such, you should always be mindful of yourself and those you are with when riding them. Stand in the middle of the stair (where the painted feet may or may not be) and pa close attention when stepping on or getting off an escalator. If you have been injured on an escalator, feel free to give us a call.