Almost an accident a day on Singapore’s escalators, and the reasons why
Most of these accidents were caused by "user behaviour", such as using prams on escalators, running on them and not holding the handrails. Talking Point investigates.
SINGAPORE: She has seen patients as young as one month old suffer from serious escalator-related injuries, such as to the head or spine.
And more than half of those who arrive at the hospital with injuries involving prams on escalators tend to be admitted, said Dr Sharon Goh from the Department of Emergency Medicine in KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
“What can happen is that parents push their children onto the escalator while they’re still seated on the pram. And sometimes the seatbelts aren’t buckled. They might fall off the stroller,” she explained.
Parents may also underestimate the pram’s weight, and this can lead to prams toppling on the escalator, which can “cause a significant impact” when the child falls.
On average, one escalator accident takes place in Singapore almost every day. And of the more than 350 incidents reported last year, over 90 per cent were caused by user behaviour, while the rest were down to technical faults.
At KKH’s emergency department, the number of escalator–related injuries among children more than doubled between 2012 and 2016. More than half of these injuries seen at the hospital occurred in shopping centres.
Escalators provide convenience, but with recent incidents — like the steps of an escalator collapsing at Tampines 1 mall — giving a bit of a scare, Talking Point finds out how dangerous our escalators are and whether people are using them wrongly. (Watch the episode here.)
SOME RAN DOWN THE STEPS
There are nearly 7,000 escalators across Singapore, and issues surrounding their safety have become increasingly important.
Building and Construction Authority (BCA) director of investigation and enforcement Darren Lim pointed out that in 60 per cent of last year’s incidents, users had to be sent to a hospital because of injuries.
“The most common (reasons) we see are those causing people to lose balance, for example not holding onto the handrail, carrying heavy objects, walking up the escalator steps and sometimes even leaning against the side of the escalator,” he said.
Of late, there have been instances of pram wheels getting stuck between the steps, causing the steps to dislodge and stopping the escalator altogether. Eight accidents last year involved prams, according to BCA.
From its data, BCA also found that more than half of the incidents involved those aged above 60, while another high-risk group were young children who put their feet against the side of the escalators.
“That can cause the shoes to get stuck in the gap. Sometimes even the toes can get stuck, and that can cause serious injuries,” said Lim.
To find out if people are aware of escalator safety, Talking Point host Steven Chia stationed himself at Compass One, a shopping centre in Sengkang, and observed how they use the escalators.
Within an hour, he noticed that many were not practising safe behaviour. He counted seven people on their phones, four running down the steps and three pushing their prams onto the escalator.
One mother confessed that she used to push a pram onto the escalator, even though she knew she was not supposed to, when her children were younger.
“Sometimes the lift takes a long time. And I think it’s because of inconsiderate people. They don’t have a pram, but they still prefer using the lift,” she explained.
IT’S ABOUT SELF-DISCIPLINE
Dr Christopher Cummings, an expert in understanding user behaviour and risk communications, felt that part of the problem is that escalators are such a common technology that people take them for granted.
By the time a child is five, he would have ridden escalators “hundreds of times”.
“So there's no thought process about (the risks),” said the assistant professor of strategic communications at Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
“This is one of the few machines that we let children use all the time. We don’t let children drive cars, we don’t let many people use things that are considered heavy machinery. But that’s what this is.”
He also thought the warning stickers on escalators were small or contained too much information for people to bother reading.
Talking Point conducted an experiment by pasting huge stickers on the floor before users step onto the escalators at Compass One, to see if this will change behaviours.
Cameras were set up to observe users, and after a day, it seemed that many people ignored the stickers, which advised parents not to push their prams onto the escalator.
Compass One general manager Sharon Tan, who has seen her fair share of escalator-related accidents in the mall, said that when shoppers want to get to their destination fast, they do not stop to think about the risks.
To the question of what can be done, she said: “It should be about self-discipline and how safely we want our journey to be. And hopefully, our shoppers can inculcate the value of safe use of escalators.”
NOT ALWAYS WELL MAINTAINED
In 2016, the BCA imposed strict new regulations to ensure that escalators are maintained every month and undergo annual inspections. And any incident involving a malfunction must be reported immediately. But have these new rules been effective?
Nexco Enterprise engineer Chan Chee Kong, a certified independent escalator inspector, said some escalators are not maintained properly.
“Most lift and escalator companies would have a checklist,” he said. “But (by) physically ticking off the checklist, does that mean that the work is being physically done? I’ve seen instances in my inspections (when) work isn’t being properly done.”
These include switches clogged with dirt, and rusty parts on the escalator.
There are 2,100 lift and escalator technicians in Singapore. It is estimated that half of them are over the age of 50. And within the next decade, this group may retire.
Without new blood, a smaller pool of technicians may be forced to work on more escalators every day, putting a strain on maintenance services.
KONE, a global escalator manufacturer, provides service crews to perform maintenance on their escalators. And its Asia-Pacific head of quality and safety Timo Skog agreed that not enough people are willing to enter the profession.
As for maintenance standards, he said “it’s an issue in any service industry”. And while escalators are “heavy-duty”, designed to withstand wear and tear, they can be damaged.
“Look at the escalator guidance: We have stickers that show … strollers (and) personal mobility devices can cause harm to people and can also damage the escalator,” he added.
“An escalator is a machine. If it’s used correctly, then it’s quite difficult to damage it.”
Watch this episode of Talking Point here. New episodes every Thursday at 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.