View from here - Not just crocodile tears

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Footwear can prove a danger on escalators, says Martin Spice, principal of a Borneo international school

The first Monday morning back after half term brought us grim news about a little girl in one of our foundation classes.

Over the holiday she trapped her foot in an escalator while visiting a shopping centre in the city of Kota Kinabalu. No one seemed to know how much damage there was until I tracked down our Year 4 teacher, who happened to be there at the time.

Slowly and painfully the story emerged. If you are squeamish, I'd stop reading now.

Alice (not her real name) was about two-thirds of the way down the escalator when she saw her friends, including my colleague, in McDonald's. She waved to them, edging towards the side of the escalator as she did so. Then she started screaming. The Croc on her foot had been sucked in.

Hitting the emergency button did nothing. The escalator carried on and Alice's trapped foot was getting closer and closer to the end. There was no option but to pull her foot clear to avoid worse injury.

As it was, the foot was not a pretty sight. There was a wide open gash through to the bone. Across the floor, in the 10 paces to McDonald's, there was a steady trail of blood.

With the foot wrapped in a baby's nappy, my colleague's husband rushed Alice to the nearest hospital while she supervised the pulling apart of the now-halted escalator to see if there were any parts of the foot, toes or flesh left behind.

Alice had nearly one and a half hours of surgery and 60 stitches to put her foot back together. Two weeks later she is still not back in school. Astoundingly, she lost no toes. But she needed to be given general anaesthetics even to change the dressings and remove the stitches.

A problem I have with Alice's case is that it is one of many. Not in Borneo, but around the world. Google "Crocs and escalators" and you will get a string of hits.

The story is pretty much the same each time. Two years ago, The Daily Telegraph said: "Reports are increasing around the world of Croc-wearers, invariably young children, getting their toes caught in escalators - sometimes with drastic results."

Search further, and you discover that toes have often been lost in the incidents in America and Singapore, where there are now warning notices on some escalators. Japan apparently reported 65 incidents between June and November last year.

On the shoe website Shoewawa, the makers of Crocs are quoted as blaming the accidents on "poor riding behaviour" and child "behavioural" issues. But Alice was riding the escalator sensibly and simply waving to her friends.

Many of the children in our school wear Crocs. In a tropical climate, they are open and relatively cool. But Alice's accident turned our stomachs and moved us to tears. Of course, an emergency button that worked might have improved matters, but the chances are that considerable damage would have been done by then anyway.

I have warned the parents and staff here about the potential dangers of wearing such shoes. So we are now wise after the event. But it won't get Alice back in school any quicker.

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