The Croc-a-lator? The popular shoes have a knack for getting stuck in escalators—just ask Hartsfield-Jackson

By Diane Loupe for the “Sunday Paper”
Call him Cinderfella. A guy recently arrived at Hartsfield- Jackson Atlanta International Airport wearing a pair of black Crocs, but he didn’t leave with them. Instead, airport managers found his mangled plastic shoes at the bottom of one of the facility’s 110 escalators. There was no sign of the man. Perhaps the clock struck midnight.

A 3-year-old boy was less fortunate. He was hospitalized after an airport escalator snagged one of his Crocs and put a nasty gash on his toe, according to Roy Springer, operations manager for Hartsfield-Jackson. Seven people got their shoes got caught in the airport’s escalators between May and early September; five of them were wearing Crocs.

The popular Crocs, or other soft plastic shoes made to look like them, seem to have a propensity for getting snagged in escalators. Last year in Singapore, a 2-year-old child’s toe was ripped off when her imitation Croc got caught in the gap between the escalator’s steps and its banister, according to the Reuters news service. Her damaged toe was found nearly three hours later but could not be reattached.

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, a 4-year-old severed three little toes when the strap of his orange Crocs sandal caught in the side of an escalator, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

The Washington Metro, among the nation’s largest subway systems, has even posted advertisements featuring a photo of a crocodile accompanying warnings to riders about wearing such shoes on moving stairways, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, two 8-year-olds have succumbed to Croc-related injuries: One cut her big toe, while the other suffered a foot wound as a result of their Crocs becoming entangled with escalators. A down escalator ripped a quarter-size hole out of one man’s Crocs.

Hartsfield-Jackson’s Springer doesn’t know what happened to “Cinderfella”, whose black Crocs were found mangled at the bottom of the escalator. All he has left of that incident is the pair of destroyed shoes.

But Crocs aren’t the only shoes snagging in escalators.
Two people—a 4-year-old and a 41-year-old woman—were injured wearing flip-flops on Atlanta airport escalators, says Springer. The child was scratched; the woman lost her balance, fell down the escalator and was hospitalized.

Although Crocs may magnify problems, escalators have long had the potential to pinch shoes, clothing, fingers and toes—something many people don’t realize, says Atlanta attorney Michael Warshauer, of the firm Warshauer Poe & Thornton. Warshauer specializes in product liability and has handled several cases involving escalators.

“Too often I see kids sitting on escalators or having untied shoelaces,” he says.

Escalators have several points that can pinch or entrap loose items of clothing or buttons, Warshauer says. To minimize this risk, escalator manufacturers install brush guards between the moving steps and the sides. They also have cut-off switches installed, but sometimes operators don’t want to make those devices too visible, fearing pranksters will use them too frequently.

The solution to the problem is simple, according to Warshauer.
“Parents need to teach their kids, especially when wearing grippy shoes, to stand in the middle of the step so the foot is not entrapped by the step as it closes, or by the edge,” he says.

The escalators at Hartsfield-Jackson all have cut-off switches and brush guards, says Springer. “Once in a while, we might get a long dress caught in them and torn,” he says. “The most common [escalator-related incident] is that people will lose their balance.”

Tia Mattson, public relations manager for Niwot, Colo.-based Crocs, says the company’s shoes are “completely safe.”

“[Crocs have] helped draw attention to a long-existing issue that we think is very important —escalator safety,” says Mattson, via e-mail. “Escalators and moving sidewalks, particularly those that have not received proper care and maintenance, can be dangerous and pose risks to their riders.”

The folks at the Mobile, Ala.-based Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation say they don’t have any figures on the dangers of Crocs or any other type of shoes. But they can recommend safe riding techniques.

“If the escalator is ridden properly, i.e., if a passenger keeps his or her feet in the middle of the step and steps up and over the combplate at the end, they will be riding safely,” says Barbara Allen, executive director of the foundation.

Dr. SharifFor that matter, if you keep the shoes away from the sides of escalators, some podiatrists think regular Crocs aren’t bad for casual shoes. Dr. Mohammad Sharif, a podiatrist with the Village Podiatry Group in Atlanta, says he wears them and thinks they’re a good alternative to flip-flops for people without major foot problems.

“They’re comfortable shoes. They have a good, large toe box area and a back strap that holds on the foot much better,” says Sharif, who is also on staff at Emory Crawford Long Hospital. “You don’t need to use your toes to stabilize your feet like sandals.” But the soft shoe might not offer enough support for those suffering from plantar fasciitis (chronic heel pain), or who are overweight and suffer from painful flat feet, says Sharif.

How dangerous are the shoes on escalators? Springer estimates that the seven injuries arose from 32 to 36 million people who traveled through the airport during that time period, most riding at least two escalators. That works out roughly to one accident for every 9 million escalator journeys.

“If you stand in the right place and hold the rail, you’ll be fine 99 percent of time,” says Warshauer. “You cannot get entrapped in middle of a stair.”

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