Safety experts have bemoaned poor maintenance standards, aging equipment and a lack of trained inspectors.
In the third incident of its kind within a week in China, a 35-year-old shopping mall employee had his left lower leg amputated after it became stuck in the escalator that he was cleaning, writes Rishi Iyengar for Time.
Three tragic escalator incidents in just seven days in China
The employee, identified only as Zhang, was cleaning the escalator at the Longemont Shopping Mall in the Changning district of Shanghai when the it collapsed. He was cleaning the escalator “with a mop, which became trapped inside the gap in the stairs, which caused cracks in the comb plate,” according to the mall.
Mall officials have accused Zhang of using an “improper” cleaning method, while a relative of the victim stated: “the doctor said he had to amputate the [foot] to avoid the injuries from deteriorating.”
State media reports that the worker did not follow regulations which stipulate that the escalator must be shut down before cleaning.
“Since the incident, the shopping mall has stopped its escalator cleaning service, and held an emergency meeting to heighten the safety procedures for cleaning,” Lin Yun, the deputy general manager of Cloud Nine mall told CNN.
“Before the escalator cleaning services can be resumed, the shopping mall has requested a list of the cleaning supervisors and workers that have undergone training as well as to provide the training report to the shopping mall,” he continued.
The escalator in question had reportedly undergone safety testing in June, and received a safety certification that is valid until next year.
Spate of recent escalator accidents cause for concern
Seven days prior, video footage of 30-year-old mother Xian Liujuan’s death in another tragic China escalator accident surfaced online. Xian was traveling on the escalator in a department store in Hubei province when it suddenly gave way and she fell into the mechanism. She managed to throw her young baby to safety before she was crushed to death.
Friday last week, an unfortunate toddler got his arm stuck in an escalator in the Guangxi region. He tripped and fell after wandering away from his parents at a mall. His badly mangled arm was removed from the machinery after a 30 minute struggle.
The recent spate of incidents has drawn increased attention to China escalator and elevators, a large proportion of which do not meet modern safety standards. Xinhua news agency cited a recent report by China’s Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), which discovered that over 110,000 escalators suffer potentially dangerous defects, 26,000 of which have not been fixed.
Failures in repair and maintenance largely to blame
According to the organization, there were 49 escalator accidents in 2014 which cost 37 lives. The main causes of these accidents were poor design, substandard construction materials, installation and maintenance, according to China Elevator Association official Zhang Lexiang.
Government portal china.org.cn states that figures published by the China Elevator Association show that over 50% of China escalator and elevator accidents can be put down to bad maintenance and repair practices.
According to Zhang Huaji, an engineer at the Shenzhen Institute of Special Equipment Inspection and Testing, there are not enough inspectors to perform tests on all of the equipment in China. He added that many maintenance workers are leaving the industry due to low wages and long hours.
Authorities in Beijing have told local governments that they have until August 10 to ensure that escalators in each and every mall are working correctly.
Lack of confidence leads to improvised safety measures
Video footage recorded just before this latest accident shows a couple skipping off the end of the escalator. Many Chinese have demonstrated their lack of faith in maintenance procedures following the accidents of the past week.
Photos and videos of the extreme and unorthodox measures that people are taking in order to stay safe have surfaced all over social media. People can be seen supporting themselves on all fours on the arm rails, or hanging by their arms until they reach the top. Others prefer to stand on the steps before leaping over the metal covers which have given way underneath two of the victims.
But rather than forcing users to change the way in which they use escalators, stricter repair and maintenance procedures appear to be the best long-term solution to the recent series of incidents. Perhaps the loss of lives and limbs in just 7 days will finally force the Chinese authorities to address what is evidently a serious problem.
China escalator companies need to work hard to make sure that there is no lasting damage to people’s perceptions of the safety of the machinery.