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Escalator and moving walkway void in-fills

Safety Alert
1 July 2016

Escalators and moving walkways are common in shopping centres, sports centres and airports to carry passengers between levels.

In many cases, they pass from a lower to an upper level, with a void between the moving handrail and balustrade. This is known as the void in-fill area.

Various construction materials are used to fill the void. Most are not designed or built to support loads, including the weight of a person.

In recent incidents, a contractor sustained serious injuries after falling more than 5 metres through a void in-fill while standing on it to clean the balustrade. The void in-fill was made of plasterboard and was not load-rated.

Void in-fill areas are typically not load-rated, making them unsafe access areas

Void in-fill areas are typically not load-rated, making them unsafe access areas

In another incident, a person was put at serious risk of falling through a void in-fill when they climbed over a moving handrail to retrieve an item they had dropped.

As it is foreseeable that people may access void in-fill areas to clean and maintain the space or retrieve dropped items, putting themselves at risk of falling and sustaining serious injuries, it’s important that this risk is managed.

Generally, the business with control or management of the shopping centre, sports centre or airport must ensure it is safe and does not pose a health or safety risk.

Control measures

If a worker is required to complete a task that poses a risk, like falling from one level to another, this risk must be mitigated with appropriate control measures.

Where escalators and moving walkways are installed, and void in-fill areas are not able to support the weight of a person, load control measures must be in place to minimise the risk of someone accessing the area and falling through it.

Interim control measures include:

  • removing void in-fills
  • installing signs warning people not to access the area
  • instructing people performing work in or near void in-fills to consider other options, such as using long-handled equipment.

Interim control measures carry risk and must only be considered as temporary solutions while permanent control measures are put in place.

Permanent control measures include:

  • strengthening void in-fills so they can support a load, which requires a competent person such as a structural engineer to modify or reinforce the existing structures
  • fitting anti-climbing devices anti-slide access restrictions, as well as regularly inspecting and maintaining them, to prevent access to void in-fills
  • increasing the height of balustrades to minimise the possibility of people climbing over them and accessing void in-fill areas.

Remember, where a void in-fill load rating is not known the risk assessment should include a load rating assessment to ensure it is appropriate for any access that may occur.

Designers, architects and engineers must also ensure the buildings or structures they design are safe and free of risks to the health and safety of the people who work there, as far as reasonably practicable.

Additional information

  • AS/NZS1170: Structural design actions – Part 1: Permanent, imposed or other actions
  • AS1657: Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation
  • AS1735.5: Lifts, escalators and moving walks – Escalators and moving walks