Fire hazards: How you can help keep your student flat safe

21 Oct 2019,
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

It’s probably not the first thing you think about when moving into your flat, but having an understanding of the fire hazards in your home is important.

This is especially the case when you’re living with other people, as your actions can impact them and vice versa. Being aware of the fire hazards means you can then act accordingly to ensure your home is as safe as it should be. So, what are these hazards you need to know about?

Not being careful with electronics

Electronics that don’t work properly or are used in the wrong way contribute to a large portion of fires in the UK, so it’s important to recognise and minimise the risks they present. You can start with something very simple. I’m sure we’ve all done it, but using a laptop while it rests directly on a sofa or bed can itself be dangerous, as the device can easily overheat.

Extension cables can present another risk if you overload them. Check your extension and see how many amps it can handle. Then check how many amps are used by the electronics you are plugging into it to make sure you don’t go beyond the limit. Otherwise, there is a risk it could malfunction and cause a fire.

Another good habit to adopt is to turn off any electronics overnight unless they need power to keep going (e.g. switch off the kettle, but keep the fridge freezer running). People are especially at risk from fire overnight due to the fact that it can go undetected for longer while people sleep.

Also be aware that ‘unofficial’ chargers can overheat when plugged in, so you should always use the charger that came with the item, or buy the correct replacement from the same company.

Further risks can come from the use of plug adapters used by overseas students. To avoid a potential fire, we ask that you bring every adapter to reception so we can check that they are safe for use with UK plug sockets. It may look like it fits, but if it’s not compatible it could lead to a fire.

Covering your heaters

You may be used to hanging your clothes out to dry on radiators at home, but it’s best to keep your heaters clear while at uni. They’re likely to be slightly different to the ones you have at home and putting anything against or on top of them could cause a fire.

Leaving cooking unattended

One of the most common causes of fire in student accommodation is cooking being left unattended. It’s easily done. You’ve got food simmering away on the hob and nip into your room for a few minutes, only to get distracted by something else.

While it may not have caused a fire when you’ve done it in the past, it presents a very real risk. Make sure there’s nothing to worry about by staying with your food while it cooks.

Cooking under the influence

Let’s be honest here. Cooking as a new student is challenging enough, so let’s not make it any harder by trying to do it after a few drinks. For one thing, you might end up chopping a finger off, but it also increases the risk of fire. When you are drunk, your judgement and reactions are not as heightened and you may well fall asleep - not ideal when you’ve got something cooking on the stove.

Instead, why not grab a takeaway or pick something up on your way home? Better yet, save some money and put some leftovers from dinner aside so you have something tasty to tuck into when you get home.

Using tins or foil in the microwave

If you’ve not quite become Jamie Oliver and your cooking skills are still very much in the ‘beginner’ category, the microwave may well be your best friend come dinner time. That’s fine, there’s no judgement from us.

Having said that, microwaves can be a very real fire hazard, especially to people who haven’t really used them that much before. As with all cooking, it’s important to keep an eye on your food while it heats up, but most importantly, you should never put a tin or any foil in a microwave. If you do, you’ll end up with a fire on your hands!

Frying with oil

Frying with oil presents a very real risk, as it can catch fire easily. If it’s smoking, it’s too hot and you should turn off the heat. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t add water to the pan if you’re cooking with oil, as it can very easily create a fire. On this note, make sure any food you are popping into the pan is dry and never leave it unattended.

Dirty kitchen equipment

Fires can also start because of dirty cooking equipment. Ensuring you leave your hob, grill and oven clean will help avoid the risk of a fire starting while you’re cooking. It’s especially important to keep the grill pan and hob clean, as a build-up of fat or grime can easily catch fire.

Using open flames

We get it. Candles can add a homely touch to your room at university, but there’s a reason they’re against the rules. In London alone there were 234 fires connected to candle use in 2017, with that number rising sharply when the rest of the UK is included. Want the ambiance of candles without the risks? Give fairy lights a go.

Similarly, smoking in your flat puts not just yourself at risk, but others too, which is why it’s important to only use the designated smoking areas outside.

Propping open fire doors

As tempting as it may be to prop your doors open in your flat, doing so can put you in unnecessary danger. Fire doors provide a minimum of 30 minutes’ protection from smoke and fire and may well save your life. Prop them open and you lose that protection entirely.

Read more: Fire doors: Why you must never wedge them open

Storing things in hallways and doorways

In the event that there is a fire, you need to be aware of your exit route and should regularly make sure that there is nothing blocking the way. That means no rubbish bins, luggage or any other personal belongings that may cause someone to trip when trying to exit the building in a hurry.

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By Unite Students
Staff writer at The Common Room