New Development in Escalator Safety: Up to 95% Reduction in Falls and Other Accidents Possible Through Nudge Theory

March 3, 2021 8:38 AM EST

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HOUSTON, March 3, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Distractions, including widespread smartphone use and hectic schedules, are part of the spate of human behaviors largely responsible for gruesome escalator accidents. These accidents, no longer just limited to children and elderly, present a huge liability to venues and escalator operators. Despite that, countermeasures addressing the root cause of accidents have not changed in decades. According to an article published in the January 2021 issue of Elevator World magazine, a better alternative to the stale safety signage seen on every escalator exists: colorful graphics affixed to the moving, visible parts of the escalator, including the handrails, steps, and risers.

Author Atif Bhanjee, Managing Partner at RailEyes Safety Graphics Systems, compiling the results of scientific studies conducted in Europe and Asia, concludes that attractive graphics, bringing attention to the moving escalator parts, effectively, albeit indirectly, modify human behavior towards safer escalator ridership. He shares that "I wrote the article because art, in vibrant colors and combined with motion, has captured my attention for as long as I can remember. Safety regulators must consider that scientific proof of beautiful graphics working for greater good and saving lives is a game-changer." 

Unlike elevator accidents where the common cause is mechanical failure, up to 95% of escalator accidents and fatalities are the result of passenger behavior. Following Nobel Prize-winning insights on Behavioral Science's Heuristics, made accessible by Nudge Theory, Bhanjee argues that it is the indirect, rather than direct, cues to modify rider behavior that leads to significantly fewer accidents. The article identifies several Nudge Theory principles based on scientific evidence that can be easily implemented for immediate reduction in escalator passenger accidents.

Key among them is a 2016 study by the safety committee of the London Underground subway system. This study directly compared traditional direct instruction safety signage against Nudge techniques. The results were astounding; of the total of 12 mixed initiatives tested, only 7 passed the qualitative and quantitative criteria for success. The top three were Nudge graphics on the steps (-27% reduced accidents, +21% improved behavior), risers (+13% desired behavior), and handrails (-24% reduced accidents, +17.4% improved behavior). Despite the study only using simple, single-color graphic "nudges" one at a time, it tallied at least 51.4% improved behaviors from these three changes.

In another study referenced by the article, Swiss researchers applied heuristic's "stimulus response compatibility" that identified human associations of the colors green to mean "GO!" and red to mean "STOP!". In their escalator behavior experiment, they applied the red color imprinted with "Stand Here" to the right handrail, and a green "Walk Here" imprinted on the left. The researchers found that not only did the graphics cause an immediate change in behavior, but that the prescribed behavior continued even in the months after the removal of the cues.

Considering the status quo, the article finds that riders dismiss existing safety signage on escalators because they are dated, unenforceable, and inconveniently located. It posits that effective reading of these signs requires that a person stop and take the time to engage in "reflective thinking" before embarking on the escalator journey. However, Nudge Theory finds that most people engage in "automatic thinking" instead. Rider education efforts, also status-quo, is challenged in reach and proof.

Given the heavily regulated nature of the escalator industry, change is difficult. Prior to the article publishing in the trade magazine, author Atif Bhanjee expressed, "I was frustrated that the knee-jerk reaction to attractive graphics on escalators was that it is a distraction. While that sentiment is understandable, primary research findings show otherwise, counter-intuitive though it may seem." Based on his meetings with industry leaders, Bhanjee shares that "I find that much of the negative perception of escalator graphics result from a bad experience over a decade ago; early implementors' handrail vinyls were inferior, expensive, and aggressively focused only on selling ads."

Today, new entrants offer robust graphics products – including long-term antimicrobial solutions – for not only handrails, but also steps and risers. The combination of graphics on all moving parts creates the maximum "nudge" effect for safety, while the appearance can be calibrated for beauty, messaging, and even social distancing. Escalator operators, venues, regulators, artists, and even advertisers have a huge opportunity to inexpensively test new visuals that work in more ways than one.

For more information or to implement escalator graphics in your venue, contact Atif Bhanjee at or (832)931-1111. The article, published in the January 2021 issue of ELEVATOR WORLD magazine, is available HERE in PDF format.


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SOURCE RailEyes Safety Graphics Systems

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