Nationally-Recognized Escalator Safety Expert Won’t Let His Own Small Child Ride on Escalators

Escalators are a convenient way to get from point A to point B.  But do you know why mall escalators have glass sides? It’s so small kids can see through them and let you know about the toys and the McDonalds on the next level!  Kids love riding them, too.  Right up to the point where the escalator bites off a finger… or worse!

According to a study published by a prominent pediatric medical center in the Midwest, data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission confirmed an escalator amputation rate among children under the age of 5 of one a week, every week, for 12 solid years…  600 amputations! You might think that would be enough to make the industry wake up and make some changes.  But you’d be wrong.  The industry just digs in its heels to fight change.

Sloppy Maintenance = Missing Fingers

You’ve probably noticed that the tread on the escalator step you stand on and the riser of the step in front of you have a series of grooves in them.  What you may not have noticed is that these grooves meet and mesh together in the space where the steps come together.  Escalators are made this way to try to close the gap between the steps and to prevent objects and body parts from getting stuck.  But in order for this design feature to work the way it’s intended to work, the escalator has to be properly serviced and maintained.  This is where the problem lies most of the time.

Imagine two really, really big bicycle chains pulling the escalator steps up along two tracks.  That’s how the steps get to the top before disappearing under the floor, where they get recycled.  Over time gravity starts to work against the chains and they start to stretch if they are not properly inspected and maintained; if they do stretch, the meshing between the steps starts to give out and a gap develops between the steps, just the right size for small fingers of a child who is unlucky enough to slip or fall down . . . like kids do.  Unfortunately these slip-and-falls always seem to happen near the top of the ride when passengers are getting off.  Near the top of the cycle, as the steps level off, gravity loses its effect on the steps and that gap starts to close, trapping and crushing the child’s finger, and dragging it toward the comb plate, where the steps start disappearing at a rate of faster than one step per second.  Along with the child’s finger.

The San Diego Child Injury Law Center recently had the privilege of representing a small child who had a finger amputated by an escalator.  Our investigation confirmed excessive gaps between the steps.  During the course of our investigation we learned that the problem with poorly maintained escalators is so pervasive and so dangerous that the expert who assisted us on the case never let his own child ride on an escalator until the child was over 5 years old.

In our next blog update, we will be posting what is the best alternative for safety-conscious parents, in our view, until the escalator industry gets its act in gear and comes up with a way to safely narrow this gap and keep it minimized.

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