Escalators have become so commonplace we use them without giving any thought as to the safety aspect. Usually there’s little reason to worry about an escalator accident. Most escalators in public places are properly installed by experienced professionals. They are then regularly inspected and maintained to ensure that they are safe for public use.
People too are familiar with the written and unwritten rules of using escalators and usually abide by them for their own safety and the safety of other users. While escalator accidents, whether due to mechanical failure or human error are quite rare, they can and do happen. When they do, the consequences can be serious whether the escalator is empty or packed with other people.
These are some of the most common causes of escalator accidents:
Inadequate Inspections And Maintenance
Inadequate inspections are the top cause of escalator accidents. Considering the heavy use that escalators are subjected to every single day, regular thorough inspection and maintenance of escalators is crucial. If inspection is not carried out regularly or it is not performed properly, small faults that get overlooked could cause major accidents as seen in the examples below.
Broken Or Missing Escalator Steps
Escalator steps are expected to be tough enough to withstand the heavy use they undergo day and night. However, no matter how strong and durable the stairs are, they can get worn out over time and even break. As part of their job, maintenance personnel are required to inspect the escalator steps regularly for wear and tear and then repair or replace damaged or broken parts. Failure to do this can result in the damage getting progressively worse, causing an escalator accident.
Problems With The Escalator Handrail
The escalator handrail provides crucial support while ascending and descending. Poor maintenance can cause the handrail slow down or come to a sudden stop even while the escalator steps keep on moving. This can catch the rider off guard and cause them to lose balance and fall resulting in serious injuries.
Comb Plate Issues
The grates at the entrance and exit points of escalators are called comb plates. These comb plates can come loose with time or they can have protruding screws or missing teeth. Shoelaces and clothing items can get caught in a damaged comb plate, trapping the rider. This can result in several different types of major injuries.
Inadequate Training For Maintenance Personnel
The fact is without adequate training, any little defects an escalator might have may go unnoticed with disastrous consequences.
As with any industry, if adequate training hasn’t been provided where it should have been and as a consequence somebody is injured, the company at fault at the very least could find themselves being sued for compensation for an escalator accident.
Mechanical Or Electrical Faults
Escalators are powered by complex heavy machinery that lies just beneath the walking surface. Faulty wiring or other electrical problems can cause spontaneous escalator failure, leading the escalator to stop or start suddenly throwing those using it off balance. Falling down the escalator or falling forward on a sharp edge of the metal steps can cause serious injuries, from serious lacerations to fractures and broken bones.
It’s unimaginable that an escalator would have a defective design but it does happen. The defect could be due to an error in the designing itself or wrongful execution of the design. One of the more common design defects include unbalanced leveling that causes tripping hazards.
Another common design defect is leaving excessive gaps between the steps and sides of the escalator, which can catch shoelaces or trouser legs trapping the rider.
Overcrowding On The Escalator
There are almost always very visible notices at the entrances of escalators warning riders of the dangers of overcrowding but when people are in a hurry they might ignore the warning signs and get on the escalator regardless of how crowded it might be. Some riders add to the hazard by carrying excessive luggage with them or trying to push past others. This overcrowding, shoving and pushing can result in overloading, causing the escalator to come to an abrupt stop ending in a major disaster as several riders lose their balance and fall or get trapped.
Wet Or Slippery Steps
Public places are required to put warning signs at the escalator entrance notifying riders if the area is wet and slippery. This is especially important when it is raining or snowing. Most people are so familiar with escalators, they might not bother with looking out for hazards unless they see a warning sign. Several escalator accidents are caused simply because the concerned authorities failed to put up signs warning people about wet or slippery steps.
Injuries Caused By Escalator Accidents
The type of injuries caused due to escalator accidents depend on a number of factors, most important of which is the type of accident. Some of these are life-altering injuries.
- Serious ankle strains and sprains
- Crushed limbs or digits
- Degloving a limb or digit
- Fractures and broken bones
- Back, neck, and spinal cord injuries
- Head and brain injuries
Tips For Preventing Escalator Accidents
While some things such as escalator design defects or malfunctions may be beyond your control, there are several other things you can do to avoid getting injured while riding an escalator.
- Where possible, stand in the center of the step and face forward. Avoid the extreme sides of the steps.
- Hold on to the handrail at all times. It can support and steady you if the escalator comes to a sudden stop or if another person pushes against you while rushing past.
- Make sure your shoelaces are tied and not trailing. Trailing shoelaces can get trapped in the smallest space between the steps, pinning you against the sides or the steps.
- Make it a habit to quickly check where the emergency shut-off buttons are located. That can be a life-saver in an emergency.
Special mention must be made regarding children. Escalators can be especially dangerous for children for several reasons. If you are riding an escalator with your child, you should hold their hand from the time you get on till the time you get off. This is particularly important when riding a crowded escalator. Your child could get hurt by people rushing past without caring about who is in their path. Holding their hand also allows you to get to them quickly and get them to safety in case of any emergency.