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Greg Webb
Greg Webb
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Dangers of Escalators: Watch Your Step

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Escalators in airports, shopping malls, and metro stations may work properly, but that doesn’t make them safe. In 2007, almost 11,000 people were treated in hospitals for injuries involving escalators, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates, carrying about 90 billion riders a year.

Most accidents involve adults falling after tripping, losing their balance, becoming distracted, or misjudging steps. Those resulted in cuts, gashes, and swelling requiring medical treatment. Many blame Croc-type shoes for certain injuries; in May, the CPSC said “popular soft-sided flexible clogs and slides” were involved in all but two of the 77 foot-entrapment incidents they were aware of since 2006. In July, Crocs Inc. said they planned to put escalator safety messages on tags on its shoes.

Some safety advocates, however, say escalators are inherently dangerous and question the blame put on Crocs. “If escalators were designed properly and met all the standards, it wouldn’t matter that they were wearing Crocs,” said Scott Anderson, an engineer who petitioned the CPSC in 1997 to require closing gaps along the sides of escalator stairs. The petition initiated the escalator industry to adopt voluntary standards for reducing the size of the gap and amount of friction along the sides of escalator steps. The measures have become part of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ escalator standards, and part of many building codes.

The CPSC denied Anderson’s petition to require design changes to make escalators safer, and they also denied a 1978 petition. After denying Anderson’s petition in 2000, it said the new, voluntary standards would “adequately reduce the risk of sidewall entrapment injury” and that it would monitor their effectiveness. However, to this date the CPSC has not evaluated the standards. CPSC Spokesman Scott Wolfson said CPSC believes recent entrapments are due to the soft-sided Croc-type shoes, and is hopeful public awareness will reduce future injuries.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined more than 140 injury reports filed with state regulators by operators of Atlanta escalators from January to August. At least seven reports involved feet becoming trapped in the machinery. All but two involved children wearing Croc-type shoes.

Atlanta airports and MARTA, Atlanta’s metro, have initiated spraying friction-reducing silicone on the sides of escalators to reduce entrapment. Though Georgia enforces building codes requiring reduction in the size of the gap and amount of friction on the sides of escalator steps, only escalators built since 2000 currently have to meet those standards. Escalators built before 2000 don’t have to meet the standards until 2010. And though there are regulations in place for new escalators, state inspectors do not do the gap/friction testing themselves; they rely on escalator owners to test and certify their machines are in compliance.

moving machinery,” said Earl Everett, director of safety engineering at the Georgia Department of Labor (which licenses and inspects escalators), and when on such a piece of machinery, riders should pay attention – according to these authorities.