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The Ups and Downs of Escalators

How to Avoid Injuries with Babies and Toddlers

The next time you're tempted to go on the escalator with your child in a stroller, resist. It may be faster, but it may not be worth the risk.

Approximately 2,000 children are injured each year on escalators, with the majority of them being under age 5, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics and conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) in the Columbus Children's Research Institute at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio.

Escalator Injuries
"These children were more likely to have serious injuries such as amputation and avulsion injuries, presumably due to the large number of entrapment-related injuries in this age group," says Jennifer McGeehan, lead author of the study and member of the CIRP staff. "Additionally, falls were the most frequent mechanism of injury for all age categories, resulting in 51 percent of all injuries. However, older children were more likely to fall, while younger children were more likely to become entrapped, most likely because of their small hands and feet. Also important, a small but notable proportion of injuries occurring to children under 5 were due to the child falling out of a stroller while being transported on an escalator."

There were no fatalities in the data. In 97 percent of the cases, children were treated and released from the hospital. Of the children who required admittance to the hospital, most injuries involved a diagnosis of fracture/dislocation, laceration and amputation/avulsion, McGeehan says.

When asked where kids tend to get entrapped, McGeehan says they didn't look into this too much. Children became entrapped in all areas: the top, bottom or elsewhere on the escalator as it was moving. "It seemed that many of them were in the side of the escalator," McGeehan says. "The child's hand, foot, shoelace, etc., would get caught between the moving escalator step and the stationary side wall."

Martina Fetten of Pittsburgh, Pa., knows all too well how scary escalators can be. When her son, Niclas, was about 3 1/2 years old, he was playing next to the escalator at a mall. He held onto the outer rail with both his hands and started going up with it.

"I didn't see it at first, just when he started screaming," Fetten says. "That's when he was already hanging up in the air wiggling his feet. There was a plastic square attached to the outside of the escalator that stopped him from going any further, but it was hard for Niclas to hold on since the rubber band kept moving. Luckily my husband was with us and was able to grab him." Since then, Niclas respects escalators, always waits for his parents to accompany him and never plays with them anymore.

Escalator Safety
How can you teach your children escalator safety before an incident occurs? There's the obvious: As the Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends, do not transport children by stroller on the escalator. The CPSC also suggests that parents find an alternative way – such as an elevator – to transport children from floor to floor. If the child must be transported on the escalator, parents should remove the child from the stroller and carry the child, making sure they still have one hand free to hold on to the escalator railing for balance. "We support these recommendations," McGeehan says.

Potential clothing hazards are listed by the CPSC as including shoelaces, drawstrings, scarves and mittens. Parents can make sure their children aren't wearing these items when on an escalator, or be cautious of them.

McGeehan thinks additional research should be done to determine the exact relationship between escalator-related injuries, escalator design and passenger behavior. This would help in designing educational messages about escalator safety. "However, parents can play a big role by teaching their children to refrain from horseplay while riding the escalator, making sure that their children are not wearing clothing that could potentially become an entrapment hazard and modeling good rider behavior by abiding by all escalator safety recommendations," she says.

Carrying a stroller can be hard if you live in a place where there may not be an alternative option. "There are just way too many instances in New York City of long escalators where carrying a stroller up the equivalent number of stairs would be debilitating and stupid," says Leslie Wilkins, a mother from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Surprisingly, Wilkins has never seen any crashes, falls or other incidents, nor has she had any incidents herself. The benefits outweigh the risks, she says, adding that "the only 'incidents' happen when we get dirty looks because we forget and do it other places, like the Detroit airport, where there are elevators right next to the escalators."

The bottom line, then, is to be careful on escalators. The warnings are there for a reason.

Mom Lauren Hirsch of Wynnewood, Pa., puts it best: "An ecalator isn't a free amusement park ride."

Strollers and Escalators

While the CPSC study didn't do specific research on strollers, Jennifer McGeehan, lead author of the study, guesses why it may be dangerous to transport kids with a stroller onto an escalator. It's common sense after all: If a child is not tightly strapped in, he or she could fall out of the stroller. For a parent who is trying to transport a child, he or she could lose grip of the stroller or lose their balance while trying to stabilize the stroller and fall themselves.

"I think the main point here is that there are often safer alternatives to using an escalator when you have a stroller such as in a shopping mall or airport where there are elevators," McGeehan says. "Elevators provide an even surface where parents don't have to do a balancing act to transport their child from floor to floor."

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