What are the dangers associated with elevators or escalators?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that more than 17,000 people are injured each year in the United States on elevators and escalators, and there are approximately 30 deaths. A majority of escalator injuries occur to children.
These injuries range in severity from abrasions and bruises to degloving and complete amputations of fingers and toes and sometimes hands and feet. The data from these injuries reveals that the most common types of injuries are entrapment injuries and falls.
Within the entrapment category, most common are injuries arising from entrapments between the front and rear of adjacent escalator steps, between the side of escalator steps and the escalator skirt (the interior sidewall of the escalator) and injuries occurring at the combplate (the piece with the menacing looking teeth on the floor at the top and bottom of escalators).
However, manufacturers, maintenance providers and owners of escalators and elevators can take steps designed to prevent such tragic injuries.
What can be done to protect individuals from elevator or escalators?
One of the ways injuries can be prevented is through the consistent use of proper warnings. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Escalator Committee established a standard for escalators. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) communicated that standard to the public in the mid 1990s, and the ASME/ANSI standard states that each escalator step should have “painted foot prints” or “brightly colored borders.” However, look carefully at the next escalator you ride – most are not painted.
In addition to the lack of warning stripes painted on escalator steps, most experts contend that the purported “warning” signs provided on escalators are an inadequate and ineffective means of communicating the severity of potential entrapment injuries. As a result, intended users are simply not made aware of the potential for serious and severe injuries on the escalators.
Specifically, experts contend that current escalator “warning” signs are defective because they (1) use incorrect wording to properly communicate the danger of entrapment and the severity of injury if entrapment occurs, (2) use an incorrect pictogram to properly communicate the danger of entrapment between adjacent steps, and (3) use incorrect color to properly communicate the danger of entrapment and the severity of injury if entrapment occurs.
Additionally, some escalator steps are designed with a pattern of interlocking step treads on the leading edges. Specific interlocking designs vary among manufacturers, and some manufacturers have stopped producing some designs altogether because of allegations that certain patterns naturally create more hazardous pinch points than others.
The ASME A17 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators requires that adjacent escalator steps be “in mesh” during operation, however most escalators violate this requirement and you will routinely see gaps between adjacent steps as well as gaps between escalator steps and the step skirt. Current codes allow the gaps along escalator step sides to be 3/16 of an inch on each side or 3/8 of an inch if the steps can be shifted from one side to the other, but many escalators are routinely operated with much larger gaps. In addition to correcting the problem with proper maintenance, escalators can also be retrofitted with safety plates that attach to the edges of steps and close dangerous gaps.
Most escalators are comprised of a series of individual steps that are not connected to each other, but rather are connected to large chains running along the sides of the escalator. Each step rides on roller-wheels and is pulled along by the chain, which is typically pulled around a large sprocket wheel in the bowels of the escalator. Naturally, such equipment requires regular and competent maintenance to both repair and prevent wear on the many moving parts.
The large chains can stretch or elongate after years of continual use, the roller wheels (which are typically made of a rubber-neoprene like substance) harden, crack and fall apart over time and we have all seen escalator combplates which are jagged and missing teeth. Current codes require that the combplate teeth mesh with the grooves on the tops of escalator steps, and that combplates with broken teeth should be immediately replaced. However, many escalators are not maintained properly and consequently are operated with broken and out-of-alignment combplates and teeth.
Escalators and elevators that carry inadequate warnings, are defectively designed, and/or are improperly maintained can cause serious life-altering injuries to intended yet unsuspecting users. Studies and statistics show that many of the victims are children who are simply the correct height to be more susceptible to injury or their fingers are the right size to slip into dangerous gaps in escalators.
Many escalators move along at an unrelenting 90 feet per minute and do not miss a beat when they mercilessly amputate a finger or toe, changing a child's life forever. But such injuries can largely be prevented by properly designed escalators, equipped with adequate warnings, which are consistently maintained by competent technicians.
Specific and detailed discovery, as in any products case, is key to developing the maintenance history on a given escalator as well as to reveal a likely history of previous injuries. It has been said many times before and it is especially applicable in an escalator injury case: when the cost of doing business the wrong or unsafe way becomes more expensive, as a result of claims and lawsuits, for a company than it is to operate in a safe and proper manner, then the simple economics of business will dictate that companies will change and adopt the safer approach.
Lawyers everywhere who care about children should constantly inform parents of the hazards of escalators and should vigorously pursue cases involving escalator injury.
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