The holiday season turned tragic for seven shoppers at a Belleview, Washington mall on Dec. 6, 2012, when an escalator malfunctioned. The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) on April 8 completed a 4-month investigation into the cause of the serious escalator malfunction at Bellevue Square. The agency found that a loose skirt panel next to the steps snagged on the moving stairway, jamming it and breaking the escalator’s chains.
Because three of the escalator’s safety-stop systems failed, the malfunctioning escalator shut down only when a passer-by pushed a manual stop button.
“This is a public safety issue,” said Jose Rodriguez, assistant director for field services and public safety. “L&I will hold this company accountable for its maintenance responsibilities. We are looking for a commitment from Schindler that it will do what the law requires to keep our citizens safe whenever they step onto an escalator or elevator.”
L&I accident investigation found 32 code violations, 15 of them directly related to the accident. They included failure to maintain the escalator to code and failure to conduct its required annual safety test in April 2012. The investigation showed Schindler did not do the regular maintenance and safety checks that would have prevented the accident. The escalator remains red-tagged and out of operation until all code violations have been fixed.
Soon after the Bellevue Square malfunction, L&I ordered Macy’s and Schindler to conduct internal safety inspections of the mall’s three other escalators with state inspectors present. Those checks also revealed numerous safety problems, which were fixed before they went back into operation.
Rodriguez said L&I will now require the company to clearly outline the steps it will take to bring all of the escalators and elevators it maintains up to the state’s safety codes, and will continually monitor the company to ensure it carries out the corrective actions. If the company fails to do so, L&I has the authority to suspend or revoke the company’s license to operate in the state of Washington.
Rodriguez said that before the December accident, L&I had been working with the elevator industry and building owners on a plan to tighten maintenance and record-keeping standards, and create penalties for safety violations found outside of the L&I inspection process. With much of the work completed in August 2012, L&I filed the initial rulemaking paperwork with the Office of the Code Reviser. It soon will be re-engaging with the industry, holding hearings and putting new rules into place. It hopes to do this by September 2013.
“L&I is responsible for annually inspecting some 16,600 escalators and elevators with a staff of 22,” said Rodriguez. “Our professionals do an excellent job of looking for visible signs of wear or malfunction, and checking maintenance logs kept by these companies. But it’s just no substitute for the close attention and regular internal safety checks these machines require from responsible maintenance contractors.”