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Safe in your student house? Don't forget to read our Fire Safety Guide

25th November 2013

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Living in a student house for the first time can be exciting, but it’s important not to overlook issues such as fire safety. Most landlords are reputable and pay due care and attention to tenants’ safety – but a minority could be renting out properties that are potential death traps.

Whilst the UK government is making efforts to bolster safety legislation for tenants, the law doesn’t necessarily compel landlords to do everything that they possibly could to ensure tenant’s protection – as Craig McIntosh, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service explains.

“Whilst it’s pleasing to see that there is a requirement for landlords to have carbon monoxide detectors,” he says, “it’s disappointing that they haven’t extended the requirement to include smoke detection, particularly as more people die in dwelling fires than from carbon monoxide poisoning each year.  Most of those in privately rented accommodation.”

With this in mind, here is a quick checklist of questions that you should ask yourself about safety in your house:

Does the house have working fire alarms?

Are there extinguishers and/or blankets?

Is the furniture fireproof?

Are communal hallways and potential fire escape routes well lit?

Have the gas appliances had an annual safety check?

Is there a carbon monoxide detector?

Do plugs, sockets and wiring look in good repair?

As many student unions provide an accreditation service whereby a landlord is recommended by the university if they have gone beyond the minimum legal standards, it might be a good idea to talk to your university housing officers if you encounter any problems.

Some regions, such as West Yorkshire, are starting to operate their own accreditation schemes. BlueWatch helps those looking for a home to find properties that Fire and Rescue Services, or their partners, have officially validated. Approved landlords are issued with a BlueWatch certificate, which they can then use in their rental ads.

What should I look for?

Whilst the following points are not always legally binding, if a landlord has addressed them then it suggests they are responsible and mindful of the safety of their tenants:

  1. Fire alarms: Ensure the property has fire alarms and ask the landlord or estate agent to carry out a test demonstration for you. If the alarms are mains powered and operated via a central control unit, make sure they understand how it works and are able to explain this to you.
  2. Fire extinguishers and blankets: These are particularly important in shared kitchens and hallways, so make a point of checking that such areas contain at least one or the other.
  3. Gas appliances: It’s a legal requirement that gas appliances are 100% safe and this must be proven annually by a professional inspection – ask to see the documentation for the boiler and oven.
  4. Carbon monoxide: Whilst not strictly a fire safety issue, a landlord must ensure that carbon monoxide detectors have been fitted. Even if the boiler has been safety checked things can sometimes go wrong – and leaking CO poses a real threat to your life.
  5. Plugs and wiring: Make sure that there are no trailing or exposed wires anywhere as they could potentially spark and cause an electrical fire. Also check that plug sockets are not excessively overloaded and that the sockets themselves are not cracked or loose – faulty electrics cause over 7,000 house fires a year.
  6. Fireproof furnishings: When looking for a student house you will usually require it to be ready furnished. Make sure that the furnishings provided by the landlord are fire resistant.
Craig McIntosh advises that the most important thing is to “make sure the escape route is pre-planned and everybody knows what it is.  Have a phone available to call the Fire Service and your keys accessible so you can open the exits.”

Think about where a fire would be most likely to start and plan the escape route around that; make sure large objects like bicycles don’t end up blocking the planned escape route.

Day-to-day fire safety is just as important as planning, so regularly check your fire alarms, avoid using candles indoors, and close all interior doors during the night.

Here’s a great video made by Campus Life showing how you can effectively execute everyday fire safety during your time at university:

This article first appeared on the Safe Shop blog.

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