Moving between floors while you’re out and about shouldn’t be a frightening proposition, but there’s an element of risk no matter what method you use. Escalators often seem like the least threatening option, lacking the claustrophobia of elevators and most of the slip/trip potential of climbing stairs. Even so, they have serious safety drawbacks of their own, especially when poorly maintained.
According to a survey conducted by the Center for Construction Research and Training, escalators seriously injure about 6,800 people per year in the U.S, ultimately killing three. To make matters worse, the Atlanta area has several hotspots of escalator danger.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
With the sheer volume of traffic that passes through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, it stands to reason that some accidents will happen on the premises. However, that same volume also makes patterns more obvious and, in the case of escalator injuries, disheartening.
In one particularly dark stretch of 2008, three children were injured on the escalators over the course of just two months. The airport’s immediate response was to blame the children’s shoes, adding signs and a message that played every five minutes over the PA system, warning parents about “shoe accidents.”
It’s true that the injured children were wearing Crocs and similar soft resin shoes, which get caught more easily in escalators than other kinds of footwear. Crocs ended up becoming more infamous than the escalators themselves for the injuries, with the company even paying part of the settlement for one of the ensuing lawsuits.
It should be noted, however, that in their efforts to keep up with traffic, the Hartsfield-Jackson airport has definitively struggled to keep up with maintenance. Just two months after celebrating the upgrade of two new escalators in 2013, the hub saw another escalator catch fire, injuring two firefighters.
Escalators remain the primary and most efficient conveyance available to handle foot traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson. They’re designed to be used by the general public, and the general public can be expected to pass through in a variety of street clothes on the way to their destinations. Upkeep of these mechanized thoroughfares can’t be dismissed as a factor in the frequency of accidents.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)
Sadly, avoiding the airport and sticking to local travel offers no protection. The MARTA public transit system alone has a well-earned reputation for the danger of its escalators. The problem was most recently brought to the surface when a 3-year-old girl’s foot was crushed beyond repair by a MARTA escalator with an out-of-date inspection record.
The girl survived, but hers was far from the first such incident. The MARTA escalator systems were not only neglected but actively sabotaged by a mechanic in 2010. To their credit, MARTA immediately cut off access to the affected escalators for investigation and repair and ended their contract with the maintenance company.
Not so much to their credit, they then re-hired another maintenance company they’d blamed for a previous accident, in which an escalator lurched suddenly forward. Almost immediately after the switch back, the lurching accident repeated itself.
In spite of all this, not a dollar of the recently approved $2.5 billion MARTA expansion is specifically designated for improving safety.
Malls and Recreation
Of course, using public transportation isn’t the only time people encounter escalators. Escalators in privately owned public spaces can be just as hazardous, especially in times of economic upheaval.
While the MARTA system may not be spending enough of its recent budget boom on improving safety, many shopping malls are barely keeping their doors open at all. As these once-thriving malls slowly transition into ghost towns, there’s a long stretch of time where maintenance and upgrades fall by the wayside.
The conditions can be as dangerous for workers as for guests. In 2013, a repairman working on the fire sprinklers at Phipps Plaza got his foot wedged between the stairs of an escalator and was dragged to the top.
Other kinds of recreational facilities where escalators must handle heavier traffic can cause even more casualties when things go wrong. Also in 2013, a malfunctioning escalator at the Georgia Dome went into what a passenger described as a freefall right after a game, injuring at least eight.
How to Protect Yourself from Escalator Accidents
The National Elevator Industry, Inc. (NEII) offers some suggestions for staying safe on escalators:
- Check that the escalator is going in the desired direction before stepping on.
- Take extra care where you step if you wear bifocals.
- Face forward, holding the handrail.
- Hold small children tightly in your other arm.
- Alternatively, have children stand (not sit) near the middle of the escalator, holding both your hand and the handrail.
- If you are using a wheelchair, electric scooter, stroller, hand cart, luggage cart or similar item, use the elevator instead.
- Keep away from the sides and keep track of loose clothing.
- Wear close-toed, hard-soled shoes not made from rubbery materials.
- Reposition your hand slowly if the handrail moves at a different pace from the steps.
- Do not climb on the handrail.
- Step off and move away when you reach your destination, without hesitating or letting feet drag over the edge.
Of course, some of these tips are simple common sense, while others expect people to plan their entire days and wardrobes around what should be the simple and forgettable task of moving from one level to another. Most importantly, none of them will protect against large-scale escalator malfunctions caused by a lack of maintenance.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured by an Escalator
Seek medical attention immediately. As well as helping you heal, this establishes a record of the incident. Once your immediate needs are met, contact a legal expert like those at the Stoddard Firm. We’re always available to discuss your options and how we can help you get the compensation you need and deserve. Give us a call at 678-RESULTS or reach out online for your free consultation.