Keep Your Children Safe On Escalators
In a matter of moments a short ride most of us take for granted changed 2-year-old Madeline Dahm's life.
"I was going down the escalator," she said. "And my foot got caught."
Madeline's journey began on a day spent with dad at Maplewood Mall this summer. After dinner they headed to the Ferris wheel taking the escalator down. Halfway down Madeline's foot was sucked into the space between the step and the side of the escalator wall.
"The next thing I know she's screaming and tugging at my arm," said Jason Dahm, Madeline's dad. "I saw the shoe and I thought, oh my gosh, I hope it's just the shoe and I picked her up and I saw it was her foot."
Suzanne Dahm, Madeline's mom met them at the hospital and was shocked by what she saw.
"Her bones were crushed and the tendons were severed so her foot was like in two pieces," said Suzanne. "I was not prepared at all, for what we were about to go through."
Escalators have swallowed the shoes of four Twin Cities children in the past six months, injuring three of them. The state says the accidents and injuries are on the rise. And the I-TEAM found plenty of blame to go around.
How Accidents Happen
Many escalator accidents are the result of falls. But a growing portion of them happen while people are riding.
Underneath the escalator steps sits a big conveyor belt with moving parts. What you don't notice is the steps move ever so slightly from side to side even while they move up or down. Place your foot too close to the edge on some escalators and your shoe, shoe lace, a scarf or any loose clothing can be easily sucked in. It can also happen at the bottom when people drag their feet or clothing gets stuck into the comb plate.
Years Of Accidents
A Chicago boy was strangled when his scarf became stuck. A Florida girl lost three fingers trying to free her foot. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says 10,500 people suffer injuries on escalators each year. Most of them are children. Some are goofing around, others follow the rules.
"I recall getting on with her and trying to stay as close to the middle as we could," said Jason. That's what escalator experts say you should do: stay as close to the middle of the step as possible.
"You never think you're standing there and your foot is on the side and you're going to have this type of injury. I've never heard or thought about that," said Suzanne.
But you should. In Minnesota, escalators do not have to be inspected annually. In fact, right now the only time they are inspected is when there's an accident or the machine is being remodeled. St. Paul is the only city in the state to inspect escalators every year.
In Wisconsin and Iowa, escalators are required to be inspected each year.
Regular maintenance follow ups are also supposed to be performed. The I-TEAM asked Tom Joachim from the Minnesota Department of Labor about that.
"We don't have enough staff to do the maintenance follow ups right now," said Joachim.
Currently, Minnesota has six inspectors and thousands of escalators.
If state inspectors were checking, they'd find gaps that are dangerously large. The rules say the gaps between the stairs and the wall of the escalator should be no bigger than 3/16th of an inch.
On the advice of an escalator expert, the I-TEAM used a caliper to measure a stack of business cards to 3/16ths of an inch. Slip those cards easily in and out and the expert says that escalator is considered a danger. That's what we found on 10 of every 12 escalators we checked, including the escalator where Madeline was injured.
Narrow, Outdated Escalators
Jason said the escalator he was riding with Madeline seemed narrow.
"At the time it seemed as though the escalator wasn't wide enough for two people, even a full grown adult and a child," he said.
Maplewood Mall's main escalators are much narrower than most, 15 inches skinnier than the escalator at the Barnes and Noble in the same mall. Joachim admitted many of the escalators in use across the Twin Cities are old and outdated -- a problem, since you are supposed to stand next to your child.
"People ride them everyday and they have no idea, no clue," noted Suzanne.
Safety Features Lacking
There are features that can make escalators safer. Plates that are often painted yellow can help close the gaps on steps. Brushes are also supposed to warn you if you get too close to the edge.
The I-TEAM checked malls across the Twin Cities and found most do not have these safety features, and they are not required by law.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Jason.
State Law Changes
Madeline's injury may help change that. Starting no later than next spring the state will impose new safety rules, including mandatory annual inspections and retrofitting all old escalators with some of those safety features.
"It's basically based on accidents and wear and tear on escalators and elevators. I think we're seeing more of that," said Joachim.
Buildings will have years to comply.
Madeline underwent four surgeries to repair the damage to her foot. She'll have to see her doctor until she's at least 18-years-old and she may need more surgery. But she is finally walking again. Her family now hopes you'll think of her next time you ride an escalator.
"I just got to be really careful," Madeline said.
Suzanne replied, "Yeah, really careful."
Simon Properties says it requires escalators to be inspected every year and undergo monthly maintenance checks. A spokesperson could not tell us the last time the escalator had undergone either of those prior to Madeline's injury.
Tips To Ride Safely
Regardless of what escalator you are riding you should be sure that your shoe laces are tied and that no other loose clothing, like a scarf is dangling near the steps.
Then step carefully on and stay as close to the center of the step as possible. Do not lean on the railing. Your kids should hold your hand, but not the railing. And everyone should step off completely -- don't drag your feet at the bottom.
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