Escalator Injuries and Deaths and the Role of Design

There are about 33,000 escalators operating in the U.S. – far fewer than the number of elevators. But injuries occur more frequently on escalators, about 15 times more frequently than elevators. Although entrapment – in which a body part or piece of clothing becomes wedged in the gaps between the moving parts of an escalators – is often a high-profile issue because those incidents typically involve small children, falls on and over escalators account for three-quarters of all escalator injuries. Falls often cause more severe injuries and more fatalities.

There are two distinct groups of fall incidents – those that occur on the escalator and those that result in a passenger falling over the handrail of an escalator. Researchers have attributed the causes of falls on escalators to contact with another passenger, inappropriate footwear, balance and coordination issues in the elderly, among others. Falls over the handrails often have been tied to misuse, such as jumping from one level to another, or attempting to ride by sitting on the handrail, usually in a state of intoxication. But falls over handrails have also occurred as the result of entrapment; a passenger leaning over too far; inadvertently dropping a child who was being carried by an adult on the escalator; or a fall that begins on the escalator, but ends with the victim plunging over the side.

After collecting 305 incidents worldwide, 29 percent of which were fatal, David Cooper, a Great Britain-based escalator and elevator consultant concluded in a trade publication: “This is alarming given that many people within the industry have failed to realize that this is a major problem.”