Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stand or Walk? Escalator Safety in China

Signs on metal floor panels at the bottom and top of escalators at the Kaihong Plaza shopping center in Shanghai inform riders "We have already checked the area for you!"

sign on floor just after moving part of escalator with "We have already checked this area for you!"

The notifications are presumably a result of a mother's death over a year ago elsewhere in China when an escalator floor panel collapsed at a shopping mall. I haven't noticed the signs elsewhere, and wonder whether they raise anxieties more than reassure people

Collapsing panels haven't been the only source of injuries and deaths on escalators in China. And Josh Chin recently reported a practice once encouraged in some cities is a potential hazard:
Subway commuters in some of China’s biggest cities had just begun to embrace a key tenet of escalator etiquette—standing to one side to let others pass. Now, officials have another message. Never mind.

In a recent spate of newspaper articles, commentaries and social-media posts, elevator experts have warned the practice represents a danger to public safety. That’s because of the uneven wear to escalators caused by so many people standing on the right side, which increases the chances of breakdowns. Besides, they say, escalators were never meant to be walked on.
I wouldn't describe "stand right, walk left" as common in Shanghai. I normally see people standing on either side of the escalator and on numerous occasions have quietly bemoaned not being able to catch a metro train due to it. I mostly associate the practice with Hong Kong, where it has been debated as well.

Chin quotes Zhang Lexiang, general secretary of the China Elevator Association, as saying escalators could be built to withstand the unbalanced use. But Zhang believes walking on escalators would still be dangerous due to their steepness and large steps.

Curious to learn how it compared to other escalator risks, I tried to find statistics for injuries specifically due to walking on escalators and came up mostly empty handed, except for a no-walk campaign in Japan which reportedly led to reduced accidents. On a side note, one study found that 50% of the men admitted to a hospital in Switzerland for escalator-related injuries showed signs of alcohol intoxication. Perhaps there should be a "don't drink and escalate" campaign.

Safety isn't the only possible reason to support a no-walk ban on escalators though. One test in London found that more people could ride escalators during busy times if everybody stood still.

So I am thinking about whether I should reconsider walking on escalators. But I plan to remain a strong supporter of the "stand right, walk left" rule for moving walkways.

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