As winter approaches students should be aware of the hidden dangers that may lurk in their student house! In this article Lancaster based student housing providers StudentHQ Lettings take a look at the safety issues that all students should be considering at this time of year to ensure that they stay safe and well.

Gas Safety

As the weather gets colder it is enviable you will have the central heating turned up to keep warm, so it is worth checking that all the gas appliances in your student house are safe.

By law, your Landlord is required to make sure that all gas appliances supplied in your student house have been checked by a registered Gas Safe Engineer and are safe to use.   It is a criminal offence for your landlord not to have all gas appliances serviced and checked every 12 months, or for them to use an Engineer who is not Gas Safe registered. It is therefore important to ask your landlord to see a copy of the current Gas Safe certificate so you can be sure that the property you are renting is safe.

If the landlord refuses to have the gas appliances serviced, or they do not act on concerns that you raise, you should contact Environmental Health. They will check the appliances are safe and can then serve legal notices on the landlord to have a full service carried out. They can also report them to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for not carrying out their legal obligations. The HSE have the power to instigate criminal proceedings against your landlord.

All registered engineers should have an ID card, with a photograph, their name and business details. On the back of the card will be a list of the types of work that they are competent to carry out.   Ask to see this identification card before any work is carried out. If you are unsure if the person is registered, check with the Gas Safe Register.   You will need to give the engineer’s name and business details and registration number (if available).

If you suspect a gas leak, contact the national Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999.   If there is a fault they may make the appliance safe by disconnecting the service but they have no power to request that the landlord carries out repairs.

Carbon Monoxide safety

Unsafe gas appliances produce a highly poisonous gas called Carbon Monoxide (CO). If left undetected it can cause serious health problems and in some cases death.

All students should be aware of the warning signs of Carbon Monoxide poisoning:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Collapse
  • Lack of consciousness

The side effects of Carbon Monoxide poisoning can be similar to other illnesses such as flu, food poisoning, viral infections and general fatigue so it is common for many students to misread the signs.

Other signs that could point towards potential Carbon Monoxide poisoning:

  • Your symptoms occur when you are in your student house
  • Your symptoms improve when you leave the house and come back when you return.
  • Your housemates are experiencing similar symptoms.

If you suspect you are at risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning:

  • Open doors and windows for ventilation
  • Call the Gas Emergency Service (24 hours) 0800 111 999
  • Go to your GP or nearest A & E department, call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 (NHS 24 in Scotland on 08454 242424) or, if it is urgent, call 999 for an ambulance.
  • Ask you landlord to have all appliances serviced and checked. Do not use them until you’re told it’s safe to do so.

If you believe a gas appliance to be unsafe don’t be put off asking your landlord to investigate. Just because there is current gas service record does not mean that a fault doesn’t exist, after all the record is for a given day, gas appliances can develop faults at anytime after they have been serviced.

Carbon Monoxide has no taste, smell or colour so it is highly recommended to fit a Carbon Monoxide alarm in your student house if one is not already been supplied by your landlord. An audible carbon-monoxide alarm costs as little as £15 and can be bought from most good DIY stores and supermarkets.   It is important to purchase an alarm that is marked with the British Standards Kitemark. Always read the instructions thoroughly so that you can ensure that the alarm has been sited in the correct location and you understand how it should be tested.

If you would like further information on the dangers of Carbon Monoxide why not have a look at the Carbon Monoxide Awareness website for more details.

Electrical Safety

Dangerous electrical appliances or damaged sockets can cause fire or serious injury. Although there is no legal requirement for your landlord to carry out regular checks they are responsible for ensuring that the installations and appliances are safe to use.

What are the warning signs?

  • Broken plug sockets
  • Plugs that get hot when they are used
  • Sparks from electrical appliances/sockets
  • Fuses which continually blow
  • Loose switches
  • Exposed wiring

Fire Safety

All soft furnishings such as sofas, armchairs, cushions and bedroom furniture must comply with fire safety standards and be made from fire resistant materials.

Most new furniture should have a permanent label to show that it meets with the Fire Safety Regulations. If your furniture does not have the necessary labels check with the landlord. If you have any concerns contact Trading Standards who have the power to enforce the legislation.

A landlord may ask you to remove furniture you bring from home if it does not meet with the standards. Landlords put in fire detection systems for your safety and the protection of their property so please:

  • Do not remove the self closing mechanisms on fire doors.
  • Do not prop fire doors open.
  • Never cover up or remove batteries from smoke or heat detectors. If a fire breaks out you risk death or serious injury to yourself or other tenants. The landlord/agent could sue for damage caused to their property.
  • Always put candles on a protected surface and never leave a candle lit when you go to sleep or leave the room.
  • Test smoke alarms once a week.
  • Inform the landlord/agent immediately if the fire extinguisher or fire blanket has been used. If either are used inappropriately, the household could be charged for a replacement.

Security

According to Home Office statistics, one in three students become victims of crime before they graduate. You can avoid being one of them by taking some simple precautions.

House hunting

At this time of year many students are starting to look for accommodation for the following academic year, so finding a safe and secure house in a good student friendly location is really important.

When looking for a student house it is not always easy to tell if an area is ‘safe’ but there are sometimes tell tale signs that can point to a potential threat of crime, e.g. broken glass, boarded up windows and graffiti. You could also seek advice from other students to see if anyone is familiar with the area or knows anyone currently living there. It is important to visit the area both during the day and at night to ensure that you feel safe. If you have any concerns it is wise to go with a group of friends so not to put yourself at risk.

When it comes to choosing a student house make sure it has:

  • Curtains on downstairs windows
  • Secure double glazed windows with locks
  • A solid front door with secure locks
  • Secure boundary walls and a gate to the rear yard/garden

Get into a good routine:

  • Make sure your student house is secure every time you go out. Even if you are only popping out for five minutes it’s important to shut all the windows and lock the door.
  • Lock up properly. Never just use the Yale lock.
  • Don’t leave any external doors unlocked when you are at home.
  • Never leave valuables on show as this will attract opportunist thief’s
  • Mark your property with a UV pen so it can be traced if stolen.
  • Take your valuables home with you over the holidays.
  • Use timer switches when you are out/away.
  • Don’t leave downstairs windows open when you are not in the room.

Contents Insurance

Content’s insurance for students can be bought cheaply from many of the major insurance companies such as Endsleigh, so it’s well worth considering taking out a policy to cover your possessions whilst you are away at university.

  • Get a policy that covers what you need. Ask questions and shop around for the best deal.
  • Check if you are covered by your parents’ insurance.
  • Beware of exclusions or special requirements (e.g. locks on bedroom doors).
  • If you live in university accommodation you may already be covered. If you’ve got a lot of expensive stuff or want your bike covered, you may need to take out additional cover.

Insurance is not an alternative to being conscientious about security. If a burglar gets in through an unlocked door or window, your insurance company may not pay out.

I’ve been burgled, what do I do?

  • Call the police. When they come round make sure they give you a crime reference number as you will need this for your insurance. Do not move anything or tidy up until after the police have been.
  • Contact your landlord to secure the property if forced entry has been used.
  • If you have contents insurance call your insurance company to make a claim.

Summary

University is a time to savour, after all these are likely to be some of the most enjoyable years of your life but to make the most of your time at university it is important to take time to look after your safety and the safety of your friends.

So if you are concerned by any of the issues raised in this article don’t be afraid to ask questions. You could end up saving someone’s life!

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How to Stay Safe & Secure in your Student House this Winter