Malaysians spooked by spate of escalator accidents; officials say human error is the culprit

Workers checking on an escalator in a Malaysian shopping mall.
Workers checking on an escalator in a Malaysian shopping mall.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A loud crash, followed by screams. Another escalator incident. But this time, it's not in China.

A sales executive who wants to be known only as Eileen shared photos online of a broken travelator in a hypermarket in Penang. The post went viral recently.

She was on the other side when a piece of the machine's metal tread fell inside the moving travelator, leaving a huge gap. Luckily, there was no one on it.

"I just screamed when I heard the noise. If I was on that side, my leg would have gone inside the machine. I could have been seriously hurt.

"Now every time I get on a machine, I'm scared, especially after the recent accidents in China."

Shocked that such an incident happened in Malaysia, she questions if it was due to poor maintenance.

"I heard that recently there were similar safety issues in other malls too," she says in an interview via Facebook.

The recent incidents, especially the one in which a mother died after falling through a gap that suddenly opened at the top of an escalator in China, have shocked Malaysian Lift and Escalator Association president Franky Ho.


While he refuses to speculate about why that accident happened in China, Mr Ho believes that a similar occurrence in Malaysia is highly unlikely.

But the association's members have received many anxious queries from Malaysians afraid to use escalators after that video went viral. Some have even asked for safety demonstrations.

"Even my child is scared. We're looking at ways to educate the public on escalator safety because the machines are not the problem," Mr Ho says, explaining that there are 18 safety features installed in every escalator, excluding the optional ones.

"Human error is the culprit," he says, while calling for malls to make frequent public announcements on the do's and don'ts of using an escalator.

Malaysian Lift and Escalator Association secretary Raymond Sung thinks the machine's safety is not an issue as Malaysia complies with international standards.

"Despite its advanced safety features, even a top-of-the-range luxury car comes with a safe driving advisory. How much more can we improve on our vehicles? Ultimately, it's down to the driver."

It's the same with escalators, he says. No matter what safety measures are in place, if the machine is not used correctly and an accident happens, the machine always wins.

Malaysian Association for Shopping and High-Rise Complex Management adviser and past president Richard Chan relates an incident in China that occurred a few years back, telling of how a heavily loaded trolley rolled down a travelator, knocked into a woman, and killed her.

The magnets inside the travelator designed to work with the metal wheels of a supermarket cart to help hold it in place on the sloping travelator were not meant to hold the weight of an overladen trolley.

He says reckless, negligent, and stupid behaviour is blind to educational background, status, race and wealth.

"I've seen parents carry a stroller over the safety bar and then put the child inside once on the machine. The point of the bar is to keep strollers off. When I tell the parents to use the lift, they say it's too far away."

A father himself, Mr Chan always stops to give a stern lecture if he sees children playing near the machines, but he's usually told off by their parents for being a busybody.

Indeed, there are very good reasons for escalator do's and don't's, Mr Ho says.

Strollers, for example, are not allowed on them because if the parent loses his or her balance and falls, the child and those behind could be seriously injured, he explains.

In an emergency, press the red stop button and don't attempt rescue yourself, Mr Sung advises.

"When you pull and try to free the victim yourself, the risk of aggravating the injury is huge because there are nuts, bolts and rollers inside the escalator."

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Malaysia chairman Lee Lam Thye calls on shopping malls to station guards by escalators, especially during peak hours.