National Academies Press: OpenBook

Escalator Falls (2020)

Chapter: Summary

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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Escalator Falls. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25899.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Escalator Falls. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25899.
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1 Many airport operators see escalators as the best way to convey people vertically between levels in space-constrained airports. Escalator equipment designs and layouts consider people, travel speed, and redundancy, but rarely account for the baggage and mobility devices that airport travelers bring with them. Airport escalators also carry increasing passenger volumes. Historically, airport escalators are not co-located with elevators, so travelers usually choose to take themselves, their baggage, and their travel companions on easily found escalators instead of looking for elevators. Newer airport terminal designs implement a number of changes to reduce escalator-related incidents, including safer escalator designs; co-location of elevators; updated lighting; and signage for wayfinding and escalator use. Some airports have also used audio messaging and short videos to supplement passive signage in informing and educating travelers. The purpose of this synthesis was to identify and describe methods to mitigate risks associated with escalator usage. The target audience for the synthesis project was air- port operators (planning and engineering groups; marketing, customer experience, and revenue/advertising; safety and risk managers; maintenance); designers, architects, and consultants; airport management companies and building operators; insurance carriers and brokers; and escalator manufacturers. The synthesis study shows many factors that contribute to escalator safety incidents. The main contributors are user behavior and human factors. Other factors such as esca- lator design and operations may either contribute to or reduce the number of incidents. The key factors for improving escalator safety are minimizing effective distance between elevators and escalators and providing adequate wayfinding signage to warn of hazards and guide people with heightened risk of incidents to elevators rather than escalators. The project activities included an extensive review of existing literature from North American and international sources on the nature and reasons for escalator incidents at airports as well as strategies for reducing escalator falls. The literature review also included a review of escalator falls in mass transit hubs. Surveys and interviews of airport safety and risk management professionals were undertaken to understand effec- tive practices for improving safety on escalators and reducing falls from a range of large-, medium-, small-, and non-hub airports as defined by the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS). Despite three attempts to contact more than 80 airports, only 12 responded. The survey responses are consistent with findings from the literature. The review of airport escalator-incident data and literature indicated that most escalator incidents are a result of human behavior, not the design or condition of the escalator. Most incidents involved older passengers, and female passengers were injured more frequently than male passengers were. Falls backward down the “up” escalator resulted S U M M A R Y Escalator Falls

2 Escalator Falls in more severe injuries. Luggage was a major contributor to falls. Phone interviews con- ducted with risk management professionals confirmed the findings from the literature and surveys. Escalator falls are a significant concern for risk management staff at airports. Research has demonstrated that human behavior—not the design or condition of the escalator— is the primary cause of escalator falls. Elevators are the best safety feature for the escalator. Elevators should be co-located with escalators on the path of travel with wayfinding signage that clearly directs passengers to the elevator. “Homing” an elevator by showing open doors and green lights makes the elevator a more inviting alternative to the escalators. The public also needs to be educated on appropriate escalator behavior. In airports, this means including signs on escalators to remind people of appropriate behavior, such as signs encouraging people with small children as well as baggage and other wheeled devices to use an elevator. Airport terminal signs should incorporate more icons and pictograms and reduce reliance on text to improve overall comprehension. Risk management and signage design professionals should consider this an opportunity to work together and develop standardized escalator signage that satisfies local, state, and federal escalator codes. Ultimately, signage should be part of the national escalator standards. There are three main escalator-based mitigations to increase safety: reduce escalator speed, provide three flat steps at the top and bottom, and provide wider step width. Slowing escalator speeds and adding three flat steps at the top and bottom of an escalator eases transitions on and off the escalator. Wider steps make it easier for passengers to hold the hands of small children. Other mitigations to reduce the number of escalator safety incidents include developing airport public-safety education programs focused on escalators, providing remote baggage check-in, and making escalator safety signs and wayfinding easily visible to all passengers, including those using wheeled mobility devices. Most airports have video surveillance systems covering escalators as a risk management tool. Escalator incident data are not reported using consistent reporting systems. This makes it difficult to compare escalator incident data from different airports and makes objective statistical analysis of incident data impossible. It is possible to see some trends in the data, but consistent reporting systems may provide risk management professionals with access to better statistical tools for evaluating airport escalator incidents. The effectiveness of new escalator fall mitigations require additional research. None of the reviewed literature indicated a preferred or best speed for escalators. Two airports operate escalators at 80 and 90 feet per minute rather than at 100 feet per minute (fpm). Further studies on remote baggage check could determine its impact on the rate of esca- lator falls. This is an opportunity for airports to study whether the implementation of baggage fees resulting in more carry-on bags are contributing to an increase in escalator falls on escalators between check-in and the boarding gate.

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Escalator falls are a significant concern for risk management staff at airports and in mass transit systems. The major differences between the airport and transit environments are the amount of baggage carried onto the escalator and the level of unfamiliarity of people with the escalator environment in airports.

The TRB Airport Cooperative Research Program's ACRP Synthesis 109: Escalator Falls identifies and describes methods to mitigate risks associated with escalator usage.

Risk management professionals from both the airport and transit environments have expressed interest in developing common reporting schemes and more robust data analysis to identify common causes of escalator falls.


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