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Research shows students need to swot up on fire safety


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81% of university students regularly undertake activities that risk fire in their halls or accommodation, according to insurance provider Zurich Municipal.

Research conducted using a student panel through the NUS revealed that two thirds of students (66%) have cooked after midnight and 50% have done so under the influence of alcohol.

Added to this, a worrying 33% aren’t aware of the fire safety procedures in their halls or rented accommodation.

The warning comes as thousands of university students make their way back to university. Although 75% of students surveyed believe themselves to be “pretty sensible, but likely to take the odd risk now and then”, fire safety is unlikely to be a top priority for the new term.

Unfortunately, research released by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) shows how prevalent fires are in student halls of residence: there were 514 fires recorded across student accommodation in Great Britain last year alone, with the misuse of cooking appliances accounting for (58%) of all incidents. Other causes were deep fat fryer and chip pan fires (9%) and faulty appliances and leads (7%).

While reassuringly few university students now regularly smoke in their rooms (6%), they risk fire in a variety of other ways with 43% admitting they dry clothes over a heater or radiator, 24% often burning candles or incense and 43% doing all of this while also storing alcohol in their student room.

Such is the appeal of late night food foraging, more than one in ten university students has a toaster (11%) or cooks (12%) in their actual bedroom. Toast is the favourite midnight snack – 36% of students admit to regularly cooking this in the early hours followed by pizza (15%) and pasta (13%).

One of the most popular food items to cook after a few drinks is chips (12%) and worryingly DCLG figures show there have been 47 serious chip pan fires in student halls of residence over the last year.

Paul Tombs, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal, said: “Reading up on fire safety procedures is not going to be top of the ‘to do’ list for most students at the start of this academic term, but it is homework worth doing. Particularly during Freshers’ Week when people are out drinking more than they usually would, it’s important to just use a bit of common sense before you start tucking in to some late night snacks. Cooking whilst under the influence of alcohol always poses a danger and many fires start after falling asleep and forgetting about what’s being cooked.

“But the kitchen is not the only fire hotspot – with cash-strapped students often opting to use cheap or second hand electrical goods, dry their clothes in their rooms or make them more homely with candles and delicate lighting, their own bedrooms can be a real hotbed for fire. We advise that all of this year’s Freshers take the time to locate the fire exits before they locate the bar, swot up on their fire procedures and think after they drink.”

To help promote fire safety, Zurich Municipal has produced the following STUDENT fire safety tips:

  • Snack smart: consider a takeaway, cold snack or pre-cook your food if you are planning a big night out.  Drink can make you forgetful and clumsy, slow reaction times when a fire does break out and can affect your decision making.  Remember it’s not just your life you’re putting at risk, it’s everyone living in the same building and nearby.
  • Turn off:  sounds basic but make sure cooking appliances and other electrical items – particularly high heat products like hair straighteners and mobile phone chargers – are turned off when not in use. Cooking appliances can heat up very quickly so be wary of things that are nearby.  Food packaging should be put in the bin as soon as possible to avoid any unnecessary items getting burnt or becoming a fire hazard. 
  • Unclog your sockets: overloading electrical sockets can be a common source for fires.  The general rule and advice from the Electrical Safety Council is to never plug into an extension lead or socket appliances that together use more than 13 amps or 3000 watts of energy
  • Dry safely: Covering lamps and heaters with clothes or fabrics is a major fire risk. Never be tempted to dry anything close to a fire – use the tumble dryers available in halls or locally, line dry or ensure you use a clothes horse stored well away from any heat source.
  • Escape route: If a fire does break out, and the alarm has not already been activated - activate it. You will then need to exit the building as quickly and safely as possible. In order to do this you need to be aware of where the fire exits are.  Ensure you plan and are familiar with the route and make sure the route is clear of any obstructions as often as possible.
  • No naked flames: Remember to put out cigarettes properly and never smoke when tired – especially in bed – or near flammable objects.  Careless disposal of cigarettes is a real danger and is one of the biggest killers in house fires.  You should never leave a lit cigarette unattended as it can easily over balance and fall as it burns down.  Anything with an open flame is a fire hazard. Take care when using candles and avoid using them in small enclosed spaces.  If you do use them, make sure they are in proper holders so they don’t fall over.
  • Test your smoke detector: Most importantly you should test your smoke detector regularly so that if a fire does break out you are alerted.  It’s advisable to test it once a week.

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