Children at particular risk of injury from improper use of supermarket trolleys

For Irmgard Polklaser and her husband Walter it was a very ordinary day that ended extraordinarily with a death caused by the most everyday of objects.

It was August 2010, and the elderly couple were doing a spot of shopping at Adelaide’s Tea Tree Plaza shopping centre. By the time they stepped onto the travelator, to head up to another floor, their shopping trolley was full to the brim.

Mr Polklaser held onto the trolley while his wife stood behind him clutching the travelator to steady herself. It was then that disaster struck. The trolley, which was supposed to lock itself to the travelator, began to roll backwards. The only thing in its way were two frail pensioners, reported the Advertiser.

Unable to hold the weight, Mr Polklaser fell backwards onto his wife, the trolley crushing them both and subsequently killing Mrs Polklaser.

Heartbreaking accidents involving trolleys were back in the news this week with the death of Swedish student Robin Wahlgren who died after he and a friend made the fatal decision to take a ride in an abandoned trolley through the streets of Randwick, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

The trolley crashed head on into an approaching car with Mr Wahlgren dying at the scene and his friend in a serious but stable condition in St Vincent’s Hospital.

Fatal accidents with shopping trolleys are extremely rare, even less so when used properly, but their sheer size and bulk means an out of control cart can cause serious injuries.

In 2013, a women was killed at a supermarket in China after another shopper let go of their trolley, again on a travelator, sending it ploughing into a customer metres away.

At the 2012 inquest into Mrs Polklaser’s death, State Coroner Mark Johns found the left-hand breaking device of the trolley was completely worn with no padding. The locking mechanism simply failed to engage and hold the cart.

The inquest found similar incidents had occurred with a further four trolleys in the centre, three from Woolies and one from another major supermarket. At the time, Woolworths said they were always looking for ways to improve the safe operation of their stores and had replaced all the trolleys at the Tea Tree Plaza supermarket, reported the Advertiser.

But Mr Johns, who recommended shoppers be advised of the risk of operating trolleys on travelators and retailers ramp up maintenance of their fleets, said the number of accidents showed, “Mrs Polklaser’s tragic accident was not an isolated case.”

The shopping trolley was born in 1937, making its debut at the Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain. Today, it’s estimated around one million trolleys are in daily use across Australia.

But while deaths involving adults make headlines, it’s children who are most regularly injured.

A study by journal Clinical Pediatrics, released in 2014, revealed more than half a million US children had been treated in emergency departments for trolley related injuries between 1990 and 2011, averaging more than 24,000 a year. Almost 80 per cent of injuries were to the head.

A study by Melbourne’s Monash University found 722 Victorian children has been admitted to emergency departments between 2006 and 2012 following trolley traumas with two-year-olds most at risk. The vast majority of injuries war caused by falls with 17 per cent due to being hit or crushed.

Executive Officer of child safety organisation Kidsafe NSW, Christine Erskine, said parents needed to keep their wits about them when using trolleys. “You should treat trolleys like a car, there’s a seat belt on them for a reason.”

Of particular concern were tweens, she said, who often saw the trolley more as a toy than a tool.

“It’s difficult when kids pester and that’s when accidents happen.”

One of the most modern trolleys available is the Australian designed MarkitCart created by Queenslander Mark Fraser. He said the traditional trolley was ripe for a rethink.

“I don’t understand why people still use steel trolleys, it’s like designers said ‘let’s design the worst shopping trolley in the world,” he told

Standard trolleys were hard to steer, not ergonomic, heavy and unforgiving in accidents while his creation, he said, was half the weight of a steel trolley and made from recycled plastic.

“Traditional trolleys can be quite dangerous because children stand on the steel [bar] and it doesn’t take much to topple the whole trolley over but in my one the chassis curves up so it’s actually quite difficult for children to stand on,” he said.

However, while Mr Fraser’s trolley can be found in countries such as Brazil and Russia he said “Australia has been particularly hard for me,” with no substantial orders from retailers.

While there have been increased calls since Mr Wahlgreen’s death for supermarkets to physically prevent trolleys from leaving the store, it’s unlikely any system could stop a determined shopper for taking their trolley home with them and then abandoning it on the street

Kmart has regular announcements in its stores warning parents of the importance of using trolleys properly. Coles and Woolworths were tight lipped with about their trolley safety initiatives but many do carry warning signs and it’s understood each retailer spends tens of millions of dollars on locating, repairing and replacing damaged trolleys each year.

Ms Erskine said the festive season had its own dangers with mums and dads overloading trolleys with presents and foods increasing the risk of them toppling.

“Shopping with toddlers can be quiet unpleasant at the best of times so you need to minimise your risk and reduce how unpleasant it could be.”

Written by Benedict Brook | Source

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