Are older Spokane escalators safe?



Posted on July 5, 2014 at 12:55 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 5 at 12:55 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.-- Washington state building inspectors say almost half of the escalators in shopping malls and other tall buildings are missing a key safety component required in newer models. KREM 2 On Your Side investigated which escalators in Spokane were lacking the feature.
Newer models of escalators have to come equipped with a ‘comb impact switch.’ The comb plate is found where the steps meet the floor at the top and the bottom of the escalator, where people step on and off. Newer escalators have a device underneath that plate that will stop the motor if the sensors detect something is stuck--such as a piece of pant leg or shoe laces. Escalators built before 1995 usually don’t have those safety sensors.

The state is currently not allowed to require building owners to install them. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries, however, is pushing for a change after dozens of recent accidents in the past four years on older escalators.

On April 15, 2013, Mauriceo Bell, 42, was killed in Seattle’s downtown Metro bus tunnel when his shirt got entangled in an escalator and he was strangled.

"All I know is my baby is gone and I have no idea of how that could have happened like that,” said Ruby Caldwell Denton, Bell’s mother.

MORE: Victim's family mourns, probes continue into Metro escalator

Seven other people were injured in a separate accident on the west side of the state on a Bellevue Macy's escalator that failed multiple code inspections.

MORE: 32 code violations found after Bellevue Macy's escalator accident

In Spokane, 26 of the city's 64 escalators were built before 1995, when comb-plate switches became a requirement for installation. That includes the escalators at the Downtown Macy's and the U.S. Bank Building. The escalators in the main portion of River Park Square, however, do have the hidden safety switches.

The City of Spokane requires all escalators to have manual emergency stop buttons you have to push with your hand, and every set must have caution signs by the handrails.

One building owner told KREM 2 it's already too expensive to follow city codes and make thousands of dollars in repairs on older escalators.  If the state threw on more expensive regulations, the owner said he'd considering ripping his escalators out and replacing them with stairs.