fire safety in student accommodation
For most students, going to university is an incredibly exciting experience. There’s so much going on: a flourishing social life, getting used to living away from home and, who knows, maybe even attending a few lectures too! So it’s understandable that fire safety in student accommodation is going to be way down the list of things to think about. But it’s vital to make sure students are protected from the risk of fire and one of the areas where the risk is at its highest is in their accommodation. There’s no getting away from the fact that the student lifestyle contributes to the level of fire risk.  A lot of electrical devices on the go, heavy use of extension leads and chargers, getting distracted while cooking (or even completely forgetting the fact they’ve started cooking after a particularly heavy night of partying): these are just some of the reasons why a fire could break out. Are you responsible for fire safety in student accommodation? If you’re responsible for fire safety in any kind of accommodation - halls of residence, rented flats or privately rented accommodation - you’ll already know there are considerable obligations to do everything possible to minimise the risk of fire. The precise requirements depend on the specifics of the type of accommodation so it’s critical you’re familiar with every aspect of what’s required and, if in doubt, seek professional assistance. However, one principle that applies to all is the need to conduct a comprehensive fire risk assessment to systematically identify all fire-related hazards in the premises along with the associated level of risk. The assessment needs to cover all areas in the accommodation and be regularly reviewed. Following the assessment, actions must be implemented to minimise or prevent the risks identified and that could include a whole range of measures. Are adequate fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detection and warning systems in place (and yes, we do mean thinking about whether alarms are loud enough to wake up sleeping students)? Is there an emergency evacuation plan that students are aware of and are escape routes free of obstructions and, where applicable, clearly signed and sufficiently illuminated by emergency lighting? Depending on the building, it may be appropriate to conduct fire evacuation drills periodically. You should think about whether you have adequate fire-fighting equipment like fire extinguishers available. Your building might need fire doors too; if you do have them installed, make sure students are reminded of the importance of keeping them closed. You’ll need to check all fire safety equipment and systems in place are in good working order by regularly testing and maintaining them too. Remind students of their responsibilities But keeping students safe from fire isn’t only down to the people in charge of the buildings that they use and live in. Students themselves need to be reminded they play a vital role too. This should form part of the welcome and orientation in an environment like a hall of residence but even if you are a landlord letting out a private property it makes good sense to have a conversation with your tenants about keeping themselves, and your property, safe. And if it’s your son or daughter who’s just gone off to university, why not take five minutes to talk to them about protecting themselves and others from the danger that fire poses? Here are just a few pointers to mention:
  • Electrical gadgets
Emphasise the need to be careful when using and charging electrical gadgets. Never overload plug sockets and always switch off electrical equipment when it’s not being used; here’s just one example of what happened when an electrical fan was left on in student accommodation recently.
  • Smoking
Remind them to take particular care if smoking inside a building and to remember it’s far riskier to smoke when under the influence of alcohol (or anything else for that matter). They should never smoke in bed and must check cigarettes are fully extinguished before going to sleep.  If the student’s sharing a house with others, encourage them to check the smoke alarm battery is ok – ideally every week.
  • Cooking
Make sure they know they should never leave cooking unattended. Are they aware of what to do if there’s a fire due to frying with oil? It’s a common cause of fires in kitchens so make sure they’re clear about what to do, including the fact that they must never put water on it.
  • Candles
Advise caution with candles. Ideally discourage their use but if they must use them, remind students to put them on non-combustible holders, keep them away from any highly flammable material (like curtains) and away from places where they can be easily knocked over. Make sure they know they should always keep an eye on lit candles and double check they’ve been fully extinguished when they’ve finished using them.
  • Escape routes
Do students know where the closest escape routes are located? These should be clearly signed in buildings like halls of residence but they still need to be aware of the quickest routes out of privately rented accommodation too.
  • Portable heaters
If the student has a portable heater, make sure they know to keep them well away from anything that’s combustible and never try to dry clothes on them. Students have an important role in keeping themselves and others safe from fire so it’s worth spending a few minutes reminding them of some basic safety principles that actually apply to everyone but that are particularly relevant to them during this exciting stage in their lives. If you manage any kind of student accommodation and need some expert advice to ensure your building’s fully compliant with legislation and that you’re doing everything necessary to meet all your responsibilities please do get in touch with us. Read how our fire and security maintenance project helps University of Chester students stay safe.