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Safe haven

Ensuring student safety on campus requires an all-encompassing approach, writes Simon Fry

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 03, 2016 | Security & safety

To would-be thieves, university campuses and private students’ residences can prove attractive. Students, equipped with the latest technology, living alone, often for the first time, may be unaware of how best to secure their living space and its valuable contents.  

Further danger lurks in the kitchen, where the inattentive – and inexperienced – can turn the Great British Bake Off into a scene from the life of Alfred the Great. Thankfully, estates directors can guard against such crises. “Unite Students operate all our properties in line with fire regulations for England and Scotland,” says their estates director, Steve Batley. 

“However, we go beyond what’s required of us to ensure our students’ safety. Fire risk assessments are carried out regularly by experienced external consultants, guaranteeing properties are managed correctly and fire safety controls are fitted and maintained to British Standards. All fire alarms are monitored by our internal alarm-receiving centre, and confirmed fires are reported to our Health and Safety team. Our in-house fire alarm specialists in the compliance team have installed over 2,000 kitchen door watcher units and are trialling cooker isolation devices to reduce the risk caused by unattended hobs being left on.”

Prevention is paramount. As well as the technical aspect, what’s equally important to Unite is educating students on fire safety and providing them with the skills and information needed to help prevent the risk of fires. Batley continues: “We also conduct four fire drills annually in each property and carry out a fire safety week to promote fire safety awareness. As part of our ongoing fire safety management we  maintain close relationships with several fire and rescue services nationally, ensuring we operate our buildings to the best fire safety standards.”

The variety of buildings present challenges but allow us to show a tailored approach to fire safety

One of the most important security elements of any building is its door, as it’s the first place many intruders will look to enter a building. If any of the entranceways leading into halls of residence or any other campus buildings are easily broken into, then not only is there likely to be a high rate of theft, but the resident student’s safety will be at risk. 

Installing a high-quality steel or aluminium security door is an excellent way to improve campus safety. Several firms produce a wide range of communal doors, which can improve the security of any campus building. Some of these entranceways, such as the Classic2 communal doors from Bradbury, use access-control technology. This technology replaces the traditional lock-and-key system with an electronic reader and fob, which means if a student loses their key (and when they leave halls,) it can be instantly deactivated for increased security. 

University College London, one of the UK’s largest universities, owns and operates over 230 buildings of various ages and has commissioned passive fire protection specialists Gunfire Limited, part of Gunite Eastern, to work across more than 50 teaching and residential buildings capital-wide. 

This £300,000 commission sees Gunfire install fire-stopping technology retrospectively to over 30 properties, including teaching and administrative buildings. Believed to be one of the higher education sector’s most wide-ranging fire-stopping contracts, James Reid, passive fire safety expert at Gunfire says: “UCL has a combined student and staff population of over 40,000. They have identified they have a duty of care in keeping people safe and are continuing to lead the way in safety in higher education. The variety of buildings, ages and uses presents its own challenges and is allowing us to demonstrate a tailored approach to fire safety.” 

Students learn many things when at university, with fire prevention and building security being two invaluable lessons in preparation for later life.

Top tips for ensuring campus safety

One in five students will fall victim to crime at university, with the average cost of a student break-in being over £900 to replace belongings and repair any damage.

One in three burglaries are down to people leaving their doors and windows open and unlocked, and a large proportion of student theft is due to ‘walk-in’.

Winter also represents peak season for burglaries, with most taking place between 4pm–7pm on dark winter evenings and a 63% increase in burglaries during the winter months.

University’s chief operating officer presides over one of Yorkshire’s safest campuses, with ensuring a safe and pleasant working environment for staff, students and visitors a key objective. He has the following advice for estate directors looking to ensure their campus’s safety:

  • Take a holistic approach and commit to embedding health and safety at all levels across the organisation, through extensive training of senior and middle managers.
  • Recognition, reporting and resolving of issues at all levels is fundamental in public buildings and spaces. 
  • Frequent training to incorporate new and existing health and safety standards is key; ensure all staff are fully engaged and run a ‘Safety for Senior Managers’ course approved by IOSH (Institute of Occupational Safety and Health). 
  • Have a rigorous approach to implementing health and safety procedures including regular risk assessments, comprehensive incident reporting and a key focus on preventing issues from arising, rather than managing the impact of a lapse.
  • Always look at ways to improve health and safety on campus, working with staff and students, and have established protocols for them working and studying abroad in light of a wide range of international issues. 
  • Across the campus in learning, teaching and residential accommodation, ensure students and staff are informed about their personal safety whilst onsite; this is reinforced with new students and staff at key points in the year. 

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