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Be aware of the dangers escalators pose to children

Thousands of children are treated in emergency rooms each year for injuries related to an accident involving an escalator. Those injuries can range from severe lacerations to permanent deformities or amputations that result from getting a hand or foot caught in the escalator.

October 2006 - "The real danger here is the fact that small feet can easily get caught in escalators, regardless of what kind of shoes a child is wearing," says Donna Parnell-Beasley, Trauma Coordinator at Arkansas Children's Hospital. In a matter of seconds, small feet and shoes can get caught in the steps of escalators and along the side walls, quickly gouging toes and mangling small feet in the machinery of the escalator. The foot often gets pulled into the machinery and even more damage occurs when trying to dislodge the child from the metal.

"Within seconds, toes, tendons, bones and tissues can be destroyed, debilitating a child for the remainder of his or her life," says Parnell-Beasley. "It's not uncommon for these injuries to result in amputation of a foot or lower part of the leg." Children often don't have the developmental skills to judge distance and timing when getting on and off an escalator.

Parents should take the following safety precautions when escorting a child onto and off of an escalator.

  • Always hold children's hands when getting on and off the escalator, or carry them.

  • Do not allow children to sit or play on the steps of the escalator.

  • Children should always face forward and hold the handrail.

  • Keep children's hands and feet away from the edge of the steps and away from the sides of the escalator.

Many escalators have emergency shut-off buttons at the entry or exit point, so parents should try to identify those before getting on. Escalators that have broken "teeth" between the top or bottom steps and the comb plate are especially dangerous because they provide an even larger area for toes, even adult toes, and small feet to get trapped.

"I would advise parents to also be aware that shoe laces, strings from jackets or hoods, long clothing and even hair get caught in escalators," says Parnell-Beasley. "If a child bends over to pick up something, they're putting themselves in even more danger on an escalator." The best practice for parents of young children who need to move from one level to another is to take the elevator or take the stairs!

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