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Thousands Injured in Escalator, Elevator Accidents

May 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Elevators and escalators offer a convenient way to travel from one building floor to another.  But escalators and elevators are not without serious risks.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) approximately 90 billion people ride an escalator annually, from which, approximately 11,000 related injuries occurred in 2007.  The CPSC reports that most of these accident injuries are the result of falls; however, 10 percent occur when hands, feet, or shoes are trapped in escalators, with the most common entrapment being to the foot.   From 1992 to 2001 the CPSC reported 20 non-work related deaths of escalator passengers and 39 non-work related deaths of elevator passengers.

Soft-sided shoes are the most likely to get stuck and pose the possibility of injury on escalators. The CPSC has reports of 77 entrapment incidents since January 2006; half resulted in injury and all but two involved popular soft-sided flexible clogs and slides.

One of the most serious escalator risks, accounting for 20 percent of the injuries according to CPSC, is being caught in or between the bottom or top of an escalator, or between a moving stair and escalator sidewall.  Young children are at particular risk of getting their hands, shoes, dangling shoelaces, or clothing caught in the escalator; adults' clothing can get trapped, as well. When an item gets caught in the moving elevator, it quickly gets sucked in with incredible force. There are numerous reports each year of children losing toes or fingers because of this risk.

Malfunctions in escalators and elevators also result in injury such as when an escalator malfunctioned and quickly sped up or reversed its direction of movement.  Falling into an elevator shaft when an elevator call button is pushed and the doors open, but no elevator appears are common as are fall injuries on elevators from tripping when an elevator doesn't stop flush with the floor on which the door is opening.

And then there are the germs.  Elevators and escalators are among the most germ-riddled public places.  Elevator buttons, and particularly the popular first-floor button, are loaded with germs.  According to Charles Gerba, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, "If you can, let someone else push it so you don't have to touch it."  So are escalator handrails; Gerba advises to avoiding touching them as well, if possible. Holding onto the handrail reduces the risk of tripping on an escalator, so use a hand wipe, when possible.

To prevent escalator and elevator injuries, the CPSC suggests:

  • When stepping onto an escalator, ensure the step is flat and fully extended.
  • Do not ride an escalator with untied shoes.
  • On escalators, always face forward, hold the handrail, stand in the center of the step, do not lean on the side, and step off at the end of the ride.
  • Always hold children's hands on escalators; do not permit children to sit or play on the steps.
  • Do not bring children onto escalators in strollers, walkers, or carts.
  • Avoid the sides of escalator steps where entrapment can occur.
  • Know where the emergency escalator shutoff buttons are.
  • Before entering an elevator, ensure it's there and flush with the floor.

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