Archive for September, 2009

Bare feet on escalators

September 27, 2009

If you live in the U.S., you’ve doubtless seen signs on most escalators that list various safety warnings, including “No Bare Feet.” Makes sense, right? Most people would take that for granted, with all those gnarly looking moving parts, those teeth that open up at the top only to bite down fast and hard at the bottom could chew up a bare foot in seconds. As long as you’re not barefooted when going up and down on that mechanical monster, you’re safe. No, the sign doesn’t exactly say that, but that’s the message it sends.

But the ironic thing is, just about every documented injury on escalators has involved shoes, not bare feet. In fact, there have been a number of articles in the media in the last few years about various forms of footwear getting caught in escalator mechanisms and seriously injuring the wearers.

For example, an article in the Orange County Register a couple of years ago points out a rash of injuries that have occurred, mainly to children, in a popular Southern California mall. From the article:

The then 6-year-old boy screamed as his foot twisted in the grinding steel, his tennis shoe half-swallowed by the mechanical stairs.

It’s not only tennis shoes that are problematic for riding escalators. Another article reports that the very popular Crocs have been found to be so dangerous that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned against wearing them on escalators, though they avoided specifically using the brand name “Crocs.” More details and other links on this same issue are pointed out here in “Atlanta Injury Law & Civil Litigation Blog.”

So, what does all this have to do with banning bare feet? Good question, because there have never been any documented records of a bare foot ever being injured on an escalator. The only court case involving escalator injuries that SBL (Society for Barefoot Living) members have been able to find that even mentions bare feet is Hunt v. City Stores, Inc., 387 So.2d 585 (La. 1980). Here again, a child was injured when his tennis shoes got caught in the escalator mechanism. The court stated:

[Roger Harris of Otis] said that the inconspicuous warning signs which caution against bare feet are the only ones used by Otis…. Despite knowledge of the danger presented to children in tennis shoes, Otis had not warned of that hazard.

The notion of banning bare feet on escalators seems to be popular only in the United States. To my knowledge, no such signs appear on escalators in Europe or other parts of the world.

When I was in Fiji a few years ago, the only escalator I saw, which was at the Nadi airport, had a sign that only warned against long skirts. It also advised to not put your feet near the edges on either side of the moving steps and to hold children’s hands. Nothing about bare feet. Bare feet are quite common in Fiji anyway, so I think most people just assume a barefooted person knows how to be careful without being told. (Would that folks had such an attitude here in this country!)

And a couple of years ago when I was in Victoria, BC, Canada, there was a sign on an escalator in a mall that read: “No carts. No strollers,” plus a pictograph depicting the same rules. Not a word about bare feet.

Someone also told me about seeing a sign on an escalator in Hong Kong that read: “Escalator users wearing sandals: Please beware of the edges of steps and mind your toes.” Nothing about bare feet.

In the U.S., the signs are generally placed there, not by the store or place of business in which the escalator is located, but by the escalator manufacturer. It would appear that such dire warnings are the result of (1) the perception, albeit greatly exaggerated, of increased litigious occurrences in the U.S., (2) ill-conceived hyper-safety concerns based more and more on protecting people from themselves, (3) picking an easy target (bare feet), because who’s going to argue with that? – nobody goes barefooted any more because everybody knows it’s so “dangerous.” But as long as the manufacturer warns at least against “something,” and that “something” is something that very few people would be doing anyway, it probably thinks such a warning gives it some protection from, or at least a defense against, potential lawsuits. After all, it made the effort. Can you imagine the reaction if they were realistic about actually preventing injuries (rather than an ill-conceived attempt to just avoid lawsuits) and posted signs reading “No Shoes”? Or even “No Children” would go a long way to stop these injuries from happening.

Of course, one might surmise that no bare feet have ever been injured on an escalator precisely because of the warning signs. No such conclusion could be logically reached. People do ride escalators barefooted, in many parts of the world as I mentioned above, and also in the U.S. I have been a barefooter for many years, and I always ride escalators barefooted. And that includes those long moving walkways common in airports that are similar to escalators. Other full-time barefooters, such as my fellow members of the SBL, regularly ride them barefooted as well, sign or no sign. One member told me he has actually let his bare feet slide onto the teeth at the bottom or top with no problem; though it may look scary, he has found there’s really little or no danger of getting feet caught there. The most dangerous area is along the sides as the steps move up or down. The whole key to being safe on an escalator is being aware of where your feet are at all times. And that’s pretty easy when you’re barefooted – not so easy when your ability to feel the surface under your feet is blocked by some kind of footwear covering your feet.

I think the biggest problem with escalators is the false sense of security people may get from the signs that are placed on them, especially in the U.S. “No Bare Feet” implies that bare feet are not safe, but shoes are. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only that, the Peltzman effect certainly comes into play here as well. From Wikipedia:

The Peltzman effect is the hypothesized tendency of people to react to a safety regulation by increasing other risky behavior, offsetting some or all of the benefit of the regulation.

As to relative safety, I firmly believe that bare feet are much safer than shoes on an escalator. The reasons are that:

  • barefooted people can feel and are aware of where their feet are at all times,
  • barefooted people are acutely aware that the moving parts of an escalator do have the potential of doing damage to feet, and
  • barefooted people aren’t lulled into the false sense of security that a shod person might get as a result of seeing the “No Bare Feet” signs, and so are extra careful.

Training should include the feet

September 11, 2009

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Outdoors webzine has a new article, Barefoot in the Park, which points out that training should include the feet and that shoes do not allow the muscles of the feet to get a proper work out.

Pilates instructor Aliesa George offers exercises to strengthen feet for those out of shape. While some of these exercises may appear unnecessary or even silly to one who goes barefoot regularly, they could be very helpful to someone who relies on shoes too much. Her book “Fantastic Feet!” appears to a good resource for further development.

My wife’s foot was crushed in an accident a number of years ago. Following reconstructive surgery, she used similar exercises to strengthen her foot. She started walking barefoot as a continuation of that exercise. Then she started hiking rugged trails barefoot. She received positive comments during a follow up visit with the orthopedic surgeon. When asked what she was doing, she said she was hiking barefoot. The surprised Doctor told her he should start telling his patients to walk barefoot instead of using braces and orthotics. He then said that what she was doing was working and to keep it up.

My personal experience bears this out as well. I hiked wearing boots in my youth. I was told, and was convinced, that I needed sturdy, high topped boots for support. I twisted my ankles several times wearing high topped boots. Wearing boots and shoes all the time caused other problems as well. To alleviate those problems I started going barefoot whenever possible. First, I had immediate relief from the hot feet, shoe and foot odor, and athlete’s foot. (I haven’t had athlete’s foot in the last 30 years.) Going barefoot expanded into hiking. As I hiked more, my feet and ankles grew stronger. I have not twisted an ankle hiking barefoot yet.

The AMC Outdoors article is short, concise and addresses the subject well. Read it, heed it, and start exercising those feet.

The Health Code Myth

September 9, 2009

I sent the following letter (slightly modified from its original version) to the editor of my local paper, and it was published a couple of weeks ago:

Will this myth never die?

My wife and I were in a local restaurant yesterday near where we live, and as we were leaving, one of the employees made the following remark to me, “If the health department saw you in here barefooted, they’d shut us down.”

I was indeed barefoot, as I always am everywhere I go, and as I’ve been in that particular restaurant many times over the years without a problem from anyone. I was quick to correct her by stating that no such thing would happen, and showed her a letter I have from the county health department as well as one from the state health department that confirms that there are NO state or local health department rules that address a customer’s attire. [Copies of letters from the health departments of all states and a few counties confirming their lack of involvement in a customer’s attire are posted here.]

I am completely aware of the fact that any private business can set up its own dress code if it wants to, but that’s not the issue here.

I’m continually amazed at the number of people who still believe the myth that there are some kind of health department rules or regulations or some kind of other law that requires customers or patrons to wear footwear in a place that sells food or some other business.

Almost without exception, no such laws or regulations exist – not in this county, this state, or any other state in the United States. If you think about it logically, why would there be? Bare feet do not in any way affect environmental health or anyone’s individual health. Bare feet touch only the surfaces on which they walk, just like shoes, nothing else. How could that possibly cause some kind of health concern? It is bare hands, not bare feet, that may pose or encounter health risks as they come in contact with door handles, food, utensils, table tops, products on shelves, money, other people, etc., in a store or restaurant. There is no reasonable, logical, medical or scientific evidence whatsoever that shows bare feet in a store or restaurant as posing any sort of health risk to either the person barefoot or other people.

As someone who has made the free-will decision many years ago to never wear shoes, I have done extensive research into all the legal, health, medical, physiological, and safety aspects of my decision. It is highly unlikely that anyone – that is, anyone who is not a fulltime barefooter as I am – knows more about going barefoot than I do, and certainly not some restaurant employee who obviously even lacks a rudimentary knowledge of basic health code requirements. What I choose to wear or not wear on my feet is my own concern and should be of no concern whatsoever to any other person.

The vast, vast majority of the good people of the county and community in which I live have always treated me with the utmost dignity and respect regardless of my attire or choice of no footwear. So when somebody not only has the gall to make some comment on how I choose to dress, but tries to justify that comment with some phony “law” they’ve only heard about and have no real knowledge of, it’s very disappointing, to say the least.

Article in New York Times

September 3, 2009

The New York Times recently had an article about barefoot running. It’s actually a pretty favorable article, and goes over the running shoe research that shows that all of the fancy running shoe technology doesn’t seem to have done a thing to reduce running injuries.

For a while most newspaper articles covered more general barefooting, like this article on barefoot hiking, but more recently it seems like there is more coverage for barefoot running. I suspect the reason is that barefoot runners are just more “out there”. There are marathons or even just 5K runs quite often, and a barefoot runner is pretty obvious to the reporters covering those events.

Back to the NY Times article . . . It discusses the research, and then talks about some of the minimal footwear, such as the Nike Free and the Vibram Five Fingers. Of course, these are shoes, not barefoot! They may do less damage than regular shoes, but as the guru of barefoot running, Ken Bob Saxton, of the site Running Barefoot says, only running barefoot teaches you to run barefoot. Wearing any sort of footwear only teaches you to run with that footwear, and prevents you from correcting bad technique.

Of course, any newspaper article would be incomplete without the “he said, she said” technique that passes for journalism these days. (That is, instead of actually looking at the data and trying to pick out the truth, all journalism these days seems to do is to find two opposing points of view, air them, and let the readers decide for themselves.) This article quotes a Dr. Maharam, who is the medical director for the New York Road Runners, that is, the New York Marathon. From the article:

“In 95 percent of the population or higher, running barefoot will land you in my office,” said Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the New York City Marathon. “A very small number of people are biomechanically perfect,” he said, so most need some sort of supportive or corrective footwear.

Dr. Maharam somehow seems to think that evolution produced feet that are fundamentally incapable of doing their job. Now, of course, probably the only feet he’s ever seen are feet that have spent most of their time in shoes, so those feet have the usual litany of problems that shod feet often have: misshapen toes, bunions, corns, fallen arches, etc. If you think about it, the folks who are “biomechanically correct” are probably those who have never worn shoes in their lives. And you can add to that those who go barefoot and thereby strengthen all the muscles and tendons and bones of the feet.

But the proof is in the research. Dr. Maharan cannot cite any research to support his views. Oh, sure, he can show research that shows that one sort of arch support may be better than some other arch support, but I’ve never seen the study that compares that against simply going barefoot. And, as the article points out, there is a growing body of barefoot runners, all doing just fine in their running, and all having feet of different shapes and sizes.


September 2, 2009

This is the official blog of the Society for Barefoot Living.

The Society for Barefoot Living is an organization of people who love going barefoot pretty much everywhere, all the time.

The purpose of this blog is to point out and comment upon issues or stories impacting barefooters. We’ll also use it to provide information helpful to those who might like to try more serious barefooting.

So, for now, welcome!

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