Safety | Housing | Education

Preventing Fires in Student Accommodation

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The 8 most common causes of fires in student accommodation

With Universities around the country welcoming new and returning students, some of them away from home for the first time, the importance of education around fire safety can’t be ignored. Fresher’s Week is notorious for brigade call-outs, and with 90% of call outs to student halls being false alarms from cooking-related (and perhaps alcohol related!) incidents[1], it’s not hard to see why.

Cooking isn’t the only risk to students, their neighbours and their property; we’ve taken the most common causes of fire in student accommodation (as listed by the London Fire Brigade) and summarised them below.

Cooking

Fires are more likely to start in a kitchen than any other room in the home, and university accommodation is no exception. So, what should students take into consideration?

Smoke alarm or heat alarm?

One of the best ways to stay safe is to install the right alarm. Smoke alarms are a great choice for many rooms, but are less suitable for steamy, sometimes-smoky kitchens. Instead, we recommend a heat alarm that detects changes in temperature.

A heat alarm is a good and choice for a kitchen rather than a smoke alarm, which may be activated by steamy, smoky cooking. They’re easily and cheaply available in DIY shops and online, they don’t require an electrician to fit them as they use batteries, and they won’t go off if you generate a bit of steam or smoke from cooking up a storm in the kitchen

Reduce risks in the kitchen

Kitchens can be social areas of the house, and some say the heart of a home. Socialising in the kitchen is common, it’s where the food and drink is after all! But with hot pans, open flames and maybe a little dancing, kitchens are potentially dangerous places. Here are some top tips from the LFB to reduce fire risks:

  1. Try not to leave cooking unattended on the hob or grill – if you have to leave the kitchen, turn off the heat.
  2. Not feeling 100%? Find an alternative – if you're very tired, have been drinking alcohol or are taking medication that might make you drowsy, it's safer not to risk it. Takeaways, microwave meals or even a Pot Noodle.
  3. Be fabric aware – loose clothing can easily catch fire, so take care not to lean over a hot hob, and always keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob, even if it’s no longer on.
  4. Try to keep the oven, hob, cooker hood, extractor fan and grill clean – built up fat and grease can ignite and cause a fire.
  5. Use spark devices to light gas cookers – they are much safer than matches or lighters, as they don’t have a naked flame.
  6. Double check the cooker and hob are turned off when you’ve finished cooking. It might sound simple, but in a race to eat your food it can happen.
  7. Check toasters are clean and not placed under kitchen cabinets or close to anything that can catch fire. Regularly empty the crumb trays at the rear, if they have them.
  8. Never put anything metal in the microwave.

What to do if clothes catch fire?

If clothes have caught fire, don’t run. Try and remember ‘stop, drop, roll' – which means:

Stop – don’t run, you’ll make the flames worse.

Drop – lie down on the ground at once.

Roll – in heavy fabric or a fire blanket to smother the flames, though just on the ground will help.

Chargers and batteries

Charging your phone next to your bed? Perhaps watching TV or studying on a laptop or tablet there, too? Not ideal, but it happens. These types of devices use Lithium-Ion (li-ion or LIBs) batteries that, although generally safe, can present a fire risk.

Take the safety tips below to reduce the risks:

  1. Always use the charger that came with your device
  2. If you need to buy a replacement, always choose a branded, genuine product from a supplier you can trust. There are lots of fakes out there, and it can be difficult to spot the difference.
  3. Avoid storing, using, or charging batteries at very high or low temperatures.
  4. Protect batteries against being damaged – that's crushed, punctured, or immersed in water.
  5. Don’t leave items continuously on charge after the charge cycle is complete – it's best not to leave your phone plugged in overnight.
  6. Never cover chargers or charging devices – that includes using your laptop power lead in bed.

Counterfeit electrical chargers are unsafe – many fail to meet UK safety regulations which can lead to fires, and it really isn’t worth the risk for a few pounds extra.

Plug sockets, cables and fuses

Large appliances, small appliances, chargers, laptops, games consoles… the list goes on; it’s a lot to pack into a small area. So be careful to make sure that you’re using your sockets safely. The Electrical Safety First calculator is a useful tool to make sure that you’re not overloading your sockets.

When using extension leads, make sure they are of the ‘inline’ variety, not the plug-in cube type – these can be a fire hazard. And ALWAYS replace faulty or damaged leads and extensions.

Smoking and vaping

Smoking is a leading cause of fires in student accommodation. If you, or someone you know, is a smoker, it’s always safer to go outside. However, the London Fire Brigade have listed the following points to reduce the risks:

  1. Never smoke in bed and avoid smoking on armchairs and sofas – especially if you think you might fall asleep.
  2. Take extra care when you’re tired, taking prescription drugs or if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
  3. Use proper ashtrays, which can’t tip over and stub cigarettes out properly.
  4. Don't balance cigars or cigarettes on the edge of an ashtray, or anything else – they can tip and fall as they burn away and cause a fire.
  5. Don’t leave lit pipes or cigarettes unattended.
  6. Always empty ashtrays carefully. Make sure smoking materials are out, cold and preferably wet them before throwing into a bin – never use a wastepaper basket or recycling bin.
  7. Never smoke if you use healthcare equipment like medical oxygen or an air flow pressure relief mattress. If you use paraffin-based emollient creams, ask for non-flammable alternatives instead.
  8. Consider additional safety measures such as fire-retardant bedding or nightwear.

Vaping has increased in popularity in recent years, and although the health risks are yet to be fully assessed, the fire risks are ever-present. These mostly relate to poor charging practices or faulty/counterfeit goods, so it’s important to be aware of how to manage these.

  1. Don’t allow your battery to come into contact with other metal items as it can cause a short-circuit and explosion. Keep replacement batteries separate so that prevent accidents.
  2. Don’t mix batteries and chargers from different sources, only use the intended charger for that item.

    3. If the battery is leaking or damaged in any way, remove and replace it. Dispose of batteries safely as recommended by your Local Authority.

    It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and by using the tips above you can dramatically reduce the risk of creating or exacerbating a fire. Whether you’re a worried parent, concerned landlord or a smart tenant, using this useful Home Fire Safety Checker tool from the London Fire Brigade is a great place to start.

If you’re a University hoping to ensure the safety of your students and staff, to improve compliance and need help with your fire systems, get in touch or request a demo.

 

[1] https://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/2020-news/september/over-1200-cooking-related-fires-and-false-alarms-in-london-university-student-halls/

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