Escalators are Dangerous or Are We Just Careless?

I think many parents – especially those in this part of the world – would have read about or heard about the mall escalator tragedy that occurred a couple of weeks back when a 7 year old girl plunged to her death. In terms of cybernews, I’m sure it’s ancient history, but I still think about it and the parents of that little girl, and I feel for them. When we first heard the news, the instinct was to judge the parents. Where the were they? Why weren’t they watching their child? How could any parent be so irresponsible?

Standing in our ivory towers, examining the hearsay and half facts of the story, it is easy to judge. I think I speak for most parents when I say that we love our children and we wouldn’t ever dream of standing by while we watch our children put themselves in certain danger. So let’s step inside the shoes of Nurul’s parents and try to understand how something like this might have happened to loving parents who did not realise the peril their child was in. Hopefully, we can all learn a thing or two from this mistake and take steps to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again.

Firstly, a confession… I used to think that things like this could never happen to me. I had the perfect child that I had raised well – or so I thought. Little did I realise that it had a lot more to do with his personality and less to do with my wondrous parenting skills. With G1 as my only child, I lived perpetually on a high horse judging all those “terrible” parents with “one of those kids“.

Enter G2… and I was quickly humbled. For as much as G1 had made me look like the model parent, G2 made me look really bad and it wasn’t for the lack of trying. With G2 in my life, I could finally see how accidents like that escalator tragedy might have happened to me. At 2.5 years, he landed in hospital because he cut open his brow when he fell off a children’s stool he was climbing; at 3.5 years, he wound up in hospital again because he swallowed a coin (and no, I did not leave the coins lying around). So, no, I am no longer one to judge other parents.

When I heard the news about the accident at the Gardens Mall, I studied the reports on the events not so I could see how the parents were at fault, or that the shopping mall was negligent, but so that I could understand how to prevent this accident from happening to my own children. Having joined the “one of those kids” parent club, I could easily see how it could have been me in the shoes of that poor mother.

So this is what I think could have happened (maybe it was different, but the end message is the same)…

The parents had arrived at the Gardens, and the father was buying popcorn. Mum was waiting with her daughter. Her daughter is bored so she starts to play with the moving escalator handrail – it is something that countless children have done, myself included. As a child, I can remember doing the very same thing. I would pretend that I was single-handedly moving the escalators as I “pulled on the handrails”. I think the difference that kept me out of trouble was that I used to pull in the direction away from the moving stairs. I believe Nurul was pushing the handrail and when she pushed too far, her body came in contact with the moving handrail and it lifted her up like a conveyor belt. Being a very narrow “conveyor belt” and in her surprise and shock of her sudden predicament, she slipped off – unfortunately in the wrong direction – and was unable to hang on long enough for help to arrive.

Based on a comment from a parent who had actually seen such a thing happen before, something like this happens very quickly, and unless you are close enough and quick thinking enough to intervene on the spur of a moment, the situation goes from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. All her mother had to do was turn her head for a split second, or freeze in her shock, and she would have missed the opportunity to go to her daughter’s aid – if she even had time to respond.

It happens. You’re at the playground and you look away to check the time on your wristwatch and your child falls off. You’re at the supermarket paying for an item and your child disappears around a corner. You turn away to check on your other kid and the first one gets into trouble. It happens.

Escalator Injuries and Deaths

Escalator mishaps are disproportionally represented by two age groups: children five years old and under, and adults 65 years and older. In 2010, the Hong Kong Journal of Medicine published research regarding escalator injuries among 104 patients. The Korean researchers found that nearly 60 percent of their sample were 65 years or older, all were injured by a slip or fall. The most common harm was a head injury. The researchers concluded: “Escalator-related injuries are not as rare as previously believed and the aged population 65 years old or above is the highest risk group. In particular, walking on a moving escalator was the main cause of injury in people under age 65.”

A 2006 study of escalator injuries involving children younger than 19, also used CPSC data to determine that 26,000 escalator injuries involving children were treated in emergency rooms between 1990 and 2002. Falls accounted for more than half of all the injuries, but more than 67 percent of injuries in the 15-19 year age-range.

In 2008, researchers from the University of Indiana reported that escalator mishaps among the elderly had surged. From 1991 to 2005, 40,000 older adults were injured; slips, trips and falls were the most frequent causes. Some 3,000 injuries were seen by emergency room staff.

Consultant David Cooper researched incidents in which passengers fell over escalator handrails. In 2007, he published his results in an article for the trade publication Elevator World. Cooper identified 305 incidents in a ten-year period worldwide in which an escalator user (most of them male and under age 18) fell from the escalator, often to a level many floors below. Cooper states that the causes of these incidents include “being taken by the handrail as a result of friction by clothing”…and “falling on the escalator with the subsequent ultimate event being a fall over the railing of the escalator.” Cooper also noted that 29 percent of the fall injuries were fatal. – SRS

The moral of the story is: escalator – dangerous! Never underestimate it. We use it so frequently without incident that we forget its potential to be dangerous. This is evident from the increase in escalator accidents – not just to children. So whether you’re worried about your child’s shoes getting sucked in, your child’s fingers getting caught in the moving handrail, or an accident like the one that happened recently, warn your children – don’t mess around near the escalator, whatever the reason. The only time you go near it is to get up a level or down a level. When you do – hold hands with an adult, get on, stay in the yellow box, and get off.

Escalator accidents that can happen to anyone:

  • attempting to get off a moving escalator in the wrong direction (especially if you accidentally got on and want to avoid going all the way to the end to get back again)
  • not paying attention, e.g. looking at your phone while on the escalator
  • picking up something you dropped
  • pushing a pram onto an escalator – this is extremely wreckless and dangerous because of the potential harm it can cause to everyone around you if a wheel gets stuck or you slip


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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