Student accommodation brings with it a number of risks and requires a range of precautions to keep people safe. Fire safety in student accommodation can be easy to overlook but it is paramount in keeping people safe.
Risks for fire safety in student accommodation
The first consideration is the persons at risk. Generally, student accommodation is occupied by younger persons, often living independently for the first time, with a consequent lack of experience. The UK attracts many foreign students, for whom English is not always a first language and as university sites have become more accessible over the decades an increasing number of students with disabilities may also be present. The social side of university life also means that on some nights students may have consumed alcohol, which can affect response and behaviour; and finally, the premises are used as sleeping accommodation, which itself elevates the risk.
Identifying the associated fire risks is important and a variety of these are often found including:
- Portable electrical appliances: A variety of equipment is likely to be introduced by students including IT equipment, phones, chargers, e-cigarettes, kitchen appliances, fans, etc. Overloading sockets is one risk, using damaged items is another and increasingly fires are caused by use of cheap non-OEM chargers.
- Storage and charging of lithium-ion battery appliances from e-cigarettes up to scooters and similar. These are increasingly associated with fires and are often located in hallways which blocks escape routes.
- Cooking, including the use of cooking oils in pans and woks. There is a greater risk when cooking is left unattended or the person cooking the food is tired or under the influence of alcohol or other substances. A cluttered kitchen can lead to tea towels and dishcloths being close to hobs too!
- Use of naked flames, be it smoking, candles or incense sticks/burners; these present obvious risks of their own.
- The impact of a fire can be spread by other actions, including but not limited to:
- Covering smoke detectors to stop false alarms from cooking, smoking or other sources
- Propping open fire doors within the accommodation
- Poor housekeeping with build-up of rubbish and storage
- Ignoring fire alarms
How to stay safe
Once the risks have been identified they can be addressed and eliminated or reduced. General fire precautions can be introduced to help should the worst still happen including:
- Kitchen Stove Guard: By fitting this device over the cooker hob you can effectively prevent kitchen fires by stopping them before they start. Using a strategically placed heat sensor it will cut off the cooker’s power supply before a fire can start but is also less vulnerable to false alarms than if activated by smoke, meaning no more fires from unattended pans!
- Fire blankets: A suitable fire blanket (i.e., kitemarked to BS EN 1869:2019) is an effective way to deal with kitchen and general domestic fires.
- Fire doors and fire resisting construction: These protect escape routes. In some locations hold open devices and swing free closers can be an option to replace the dangerous practice of propping doors open which the prevents them closing in the event of a fire emergency.
- Fire detection and alarm systems: Usually commercial Part 1 systems are installed to common areas and domestic Part 6 smoke/heat alarms to individual flats.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms: Where gas or even solid fuelled heating is used these are important to warn occupiers of a build-up of the hidden silent killer, Carbon Monoxide.
- Secure information boxes to hold keys and plans, etc to assist the fire service in the event of a fire emergency.
A whole host of other fire protection measures are usually present- especially on larger sites -including smoke control systems, sprinklers and much more.
All these systems require appropriate maintenance to ensure they will perform as designed when needed.
Having a clear emergency plan is vital too – as well as ensuring that students are aware of it. Good resident engagement is required to ensure they are aware of the correct action in the event of a fire and also of the fire risks present and how to avoid them. The importance of the fire safety systems should be stressed, including that of fire doors, which are so often compromised.
By correct assessment of risks and the implementation of suitable fire safety measures and their maintenance, the student experience should be a safe one from a fire point of view.
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The information contained within this blog is provided solely for general informational and educational purposes and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Before taking any actions based upon this information, we advise the reader to consult any and all relevant statutory or regulatory guidance and where felt necessary to consult a qualified fire or industry regulation professional. The use or reliance on any information contained herein is solely at the reader’s risk.