A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Escalaphobia? Whether you are afflicted or not, there is reason to be wary, careful

Do you suffer from the fear of escalators? This phobia is called escalaphobia and affects hundreds of thousands of individuals all around the world.

If you have escalaphobia, you may feel trapped when you are at the top of the escalator and feel like you might fall or tumble down the escalator. You may also have a rapid heartbeat, a hot flushed feeling, a shortness of breath, and sudden trembling when trying to step onto the escalator.

Many phobias are triggered by previous negative experiences with the feared object or being. If you have ever witnessed an accident on an escalator or ever caught a shoelace in an escalator, slipped while getting on or off, or lost your balance when the steps and the handrails were mistimed, you might be at increased risk for developing an escalator phobia.

An escalator  is a type of vertical transportation  in the form of a moving staircase which carries people between floors of a building. They are used around the world in places like department stores, shopping malls, airports, transit systems, conventions centers, hotels, arenas, stadiums and public buildings.
The first operational escalator was patented in 1892, and installed on Coney Island, New York, as an amusement ride. Today, according to the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, there are over 35,000 escalators in the United States and Canada that move 245 million people per day. There are far fewer escalators than there are elevators in the U.S., however injuries on escalators occur about 15 times more frequently than in elevators. In fact, roughly 7,300 people are injured annually, 35 percent of them being children, according to the national Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation.

As an elementary kid growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s, a classmate of mine was seriously injured as a result of an escalator accident after his shoe became entrapped on the landing causing him to lose his big toe and part of another. Fast forward some 20 years later, I found myself working in the loss prevention department of the store where this incident occurred. In those three years that I worked there I responded to four different occurrences where an adult or kid had a shoe damaged from this very same escalator, but luckily nobody suffered from any significant injuries.

Escalator accident headlines occur with some degree of frequency. For instance just this past January a man was seriously injured in an escalator accident inside a Manhattan movie theater. Police say a man in his 70s was going down an escalator at the AMC Loews on 84th Street on the Upper West Side when his leg got stuck between the steps. Witnesses said the escalator “bounced” and caught the man’s foot. The fire department had to dismantle the escalator to rescue the man and release his foot.

In 2002 a five-year=old girl in the Tampa area was observed playing unsupervised on the Dillard’s department store escalator when the escalator sucked off her shoe without stopping. The girl instinctively reached down to retrieve her shoe, and her fingers got stuck in a gap in the escalator. According to court records, the 80-90 pound cast aluminum steps crushed down on the girl’s hand, cutting off three of her fingers. The family later settled their lawsuit against Dillard’s Inc. after the circuit court jury ordered the company to pay the 7-year-old girl $9.4 million for medical expenses, pain and suffering.

According to my research online, about 10,000 escalator-related injuries occur every year that result in emergency department treatment in the United States. While the vast majority of the injuries are not serious, a number of children have lost fingers, feet and toes over the years.

Although entrapment in which a body part or piece of clothing becomes lodged in the gaps between the moving parts of an escalators gain the most headlines, falls on and over escalators account for three-quarters of all escalator injuries. These fall incidents often cause more severe injuries and more fatalities.

There are two different groups of fall incidents – those that occur on the escalator and those that result in a passenger falling over the handrail of an escalator. Safety professionals 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. Oftentime alcohol is involved.

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.

Just over a year ago a New Jersey woman plunged to her death while riding an escalator. She was reaching to grab her twin sister’s falling hat inside the World Trade Center’s Oculus transit hub. Her sister watched helplessly as Jenny Santos (29) lost her balance, and fell nearly 40 feet from an upper level to her death.

To ease your mind, escalators have come a long way and are now engineered with safety in mind. Depending on the manufacturer, escalators today should have a multitude of safety features. All escalators should be equipped with emergency stop buttons. They should have step motion safety devises. These devises are meant to stop the escalator when a step is dislocated on its riser side due to an object being caught between the steps or between the skirt guard and the step, or if an abnormality has been observed in the step motion.

The skirt guard should also be equipped with a devise that stops the escalator if a shoe or any other item becomes trapped in the gap between the step and skirt guard. They should have a comb-step safety switch which is a safety device that stops the escalator if a foreign object becomes trapped in the gap between the step and comb. 

Escalators should also have a handrail guard safety device that detects when keep fingers, hands or foreign objects away from the moving handrail opening and shuts down the escalator when physical contact is made with the inlet.

They should also have an overload detection device which stops the escalator if an overload has been detected by an abnormal current or temperature of the drive motor. They should have devises that monitor the drive chain, the electro-magnetic brakes and a devise that measures and governs the speed of the escalator steps and handrails.

The fact is despite your fears the majority of all accidents on escalators can be attributable to rider error, where they weren’t following escalator safety procedures.

Here are some safety tips to follow to ensure you r safety while riding on an escalator: 

When entering escalators:

 Don’t ride with canes, walkers, carts or wheeled vehicles, including strollers.
 Don’t ride barefoot or with loose shoelaces.
 Don’t use an escalator to transport freight or bulky items.
 On escalators, watch the direction of the moving steps, and enter only when steps are going in the proper direction.
 Take care if you are wearing bifocals or similar eyewear and step on with caution.
 Hold children firmly with one arm or hold child’s free hand
 Hold small packages firmly in one hand, but always leave one hand available to hold the handrail
 Grasp the handle as you step onto the moving step
 Do not step onto an escalator going in the opposite direction
 Do not take wheelchairs, electric scooters, strollers, hand carts, luggage carts or similar items on the escalator
 Hold small packages firmly in one hand.
 Keep loose clothing clear of steps and sides.
 Grasp the handrail as you step promptly onto the moving step or walkway.
 If you are uncomfortable boarding or riding an escalator, use the elevator instead.

When riding escalators:

 Keep loose clothing clear of steps and sides.
 Do not touch the sides below the handrail.
 Wear closed-toed and hard-soled shoes, and avoid wearing footwear made of soft-resin or other rubbery materials.
 Stand clear of the sides of the escalator and stand in the middle of the step.
 On moving walkways, stationary passengers should stay to the right and let those walking pass on the left
 Face forward and keep firm grip on the handrail.
 Reposition your hand slowly if the handrail moves ahead or behind the steps
 Don’t climb onto or ride the handrail.
 Do not let children sit on steps or stand too close to sides.
 Never let children ride unsupervised and never allow them to play on an escalator.
 Don’t rest your handbag or parcels on the handrail.
 Pay attention to the moving walkway—don’t be distracted by your surroundings.
 Don’t lean against or over the side or run up or down escalators.

When exiting escalators:

 Don’t hesitate and step off promptly and with caution.
 Make sure to step over the comb fingers; don’t let your feet slide off the end of the escalator
 Don’t hesitate. Immediately move clear of the exit area—don’t stop to talk or look around. Other passengers may be behind you.
 Step off with caution

Escalators are moving staircases and accidents are going to happen, especially if you don’t proceed with caution. To help put things in prospective as it relates to your escalator fears, they no where near as dangerous as your stairs at work or at home that you climb or descend on daily. The National Safety estimates that over million injuries occur every year as the result of stairway falls. They are the second only to motor vehicle accidental deaths as nearly 12,000 people are accidentally killed walking up and down stairway every year.

So breathe easy and relax and let the escalator take you where you are going but do it safely.

Be Safe My Friends


Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com) and is an expert witness. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Lynn says:

    “about 10,000 escalator-related injuries occur every year ”

    Out of how many rides?

Leave a Comment