While to many, riding the escalator or a moving walk may be a daily occurrence that is instinctive – step on, step off – almost second nature, this is not the case for all. There is usually a spike of escalator and elevator incidents during holiday seasons, often due to passengers being unaware of safety measures and building staff not having received appropriate training on how to deal with incidents.
That being said, what can a facilities manager or building owner do to minimise escalator downtime? How do they keep visitors and shoppers safe in peak periods? More passenger traffic increases the likelihood of incidents occurring. Add to the mix, distraction and complacency, and the possibility of someone being seriously hurt is increased and should not be ignored.
In the last year, there have been a number of escalator incidents and, in the age of social media, we have a wider audience that can easily access graphic images of these unfortunate events. While most of these incidents have occurred outside of Australia, in the past Australia has also recorded escalator-related fatalities. In most cases within Australia, these incidents have been the result of inappropriate use by passengers – either due to ignorance or deliberate misuse of equipment.
Some common causes of escalator/moving walkway incidents include:
- shopping trolleys
- prams and mobility scooters
- children playing with the handrail
- neglecting to secure loose clothing (i.e. long dresses)
- children wearing soft footwear like thongs
- climbing the outside balustrade
- leaning over the handrail down a void
- sliding down the handrail
- persons walking/running the wrong way on an escalator or moving walkway
- persons riding bikes or skateboards, or wearing ‘Heelys’ – skate shoes (with a wheel that pops out from the back)
- unsupervised children playing with the escalator
- bifocals and similar eyewear, which can cause misjudgement when stepping onto an escalator
- passengers unaccustomed to crowded environments stopping on the floor plates at the end of the escalators – causing incidents where passengers fall over one another, and
- allowing passengers to walk up and down a stopped escalator, which greatly increases the risk of tripping.
As a rule, facilities managers and building operators should embark upon an inspection campaign for their escalators and moving walkways in the lead-up to any holiday season. Even if the building that you manage is relatively new, it is always good to conduct these checks. With building ownership churn, one should never presume the status of the building’s infrastructure and services.
Some areas to focus on when conducting these checks:
- Ensure each escalator and moving walkway has been design registered and also individually registered.
- Ensure maintenance and inspection programs are up-to-date.
- Record and report on condition of escalators and moving walkways.
- Ensure records are kept and maintained, including dates and frequency of inspection and testing.
- Check that safety signage is up-to-date, secure and accurate – consider additional signage during peak seasons to direct passenger flow. This can help avoid incidents due to people stopping at the top or bottom of escalators – a common cause of falls and abrasion injuries.
- If you are planning for or expecting high volumes of passengers, consider using staff to control passenger flow up and down the escalators and moving walkways.
ISO standard form the baseline for escalator safety
The International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) released a standard in 2011 to help ensure that escalators and moving walkways are secure and safe for everyone who uses them. Developed as a product safety standard, the technical specification helps protect users from falling, crushing, abrasion and other injuries.
The objectives of the safety requirements are to introduce a universal approach to identify and mitigate safety risks. These include design components for escalators and moving walkways that use new technologies, materials or concepts that are not adequately addressed in existing standards, and stimulate harmonisation of existing safety standards for escalators and moving walkways.
Salient points to note
What is mandatory maintenance? This means that maintenance is performed by a competent technician under contract to an owner. It includes periodic examination and maintenance services such as cleaning and lubrication, all safety-related tests required by legislation, and immediate resolution of any safety-related risk, including adjustment, repair or replacement of any defective equipment or components as required laws and/or manufacturer’s specifications.
Always keep an operating permit on-site. Permits must be kept where the escalators are located and must be readily accessible to safety officers.
Maintain standard operating procedures in light of incidents. Unless otherwise specified by safety officers, escalators or moving walkways involved in any incident must be shut down immediately and must not be repaired or returned to service without the permission of a safety officer.
Owner’s duties and responsibilities include ensuring all escalators – new and existing – operate in accordance with regulations and manufacturer’s specifications, ensuring mandatory maintenance is performed to ensure safe working conditions, and providing education and training for building/facilities managers, so they can in turn educate passengers on appropriate behaviour and correct usage of escalators and moving walkways.
Many assume it is the responsibility of the escalator manufacturer and service company to ensure the safety of the riding public. However, building owners, managers and also passengers themselves play vital roles in the safety of escalators and moving walkways. Once equipment is installed, tested, inspected and put into service, the onus then falls onto the building manager – the owner of the equipment. As such, responsibility to ensure all components are properly inspected, tested and maintained is that of building owners.
A common oversight by building owners is to presume that visitors to their buildings are familiar with escalator safety and riding etiquette. Proactive measures such as erecting additional signage to inform and direct passenger flow during peak seasons can minimise incidents and the risk of injuries. A properly planned process to deal with escalator incidents will also help building owners and managers navigate potential crises when passenger traffic is increased.
Fewer incidents means less downtime. Regular maintenance, checks and proper staff training will ensure that vertical circulation and passenger flow to retailers across a mall are maintained at optimum levels.
The author, Darrin Corrigan, is the technical training manager at Schindler Lifts Australia.