College Dormitory Safety: A Lesson in Preventable Hazards

Awareness and education are key to electrical safety on and off campus

It might not be up there with calculus, algebra and economics for students, but college dormitory safety should be in a class by itself.

With millions of students already at or heading to universities across the country over the next month and September being College Fire Safety Month, Southern California Edison urges students to do their homework to stay safe from electrical shocks, injuries and fires at housing on and off campus.

 Fires in dormitories are most common during the evening and on weekends and are mostly started by cooking.

Fire departments respond to nearly 11 fires in student housing a day, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. That included 85 fatal fires from January 2000 to May 2015. The fires result in an annual average of 35 injuries and $14 million in property damage. They occur most often evenings or weekends in September and October.

“College can be the experience of a lifetime,” said Andrew Martinez, vice president of Safety, Security and Business Resiliency for SCE. “That experience can be enjoyed more safely when students’ appliances, electronics and gadgets are not used improperly or left unsupervised.”

Important safety tips for students

  • Never leave cooking unattended. This is especially crucial since cooking is a leading cause of fires in student housing. Keep your eyes on your cooking, cook only where allowed and keep your cooking area clean and away from combustibles like loose papers and notebooks.
  • Never overload electrical outlets and extension cords. This applies more than ever today with the proliferation of electronics for school, work and play. And this applies especially to older dormitories with inadequate wiring to handle the electronics overload. In addition to checking the school’s rules before using electronics in dormitories, students should plug only one high-wattage appliance into an outlet, that appliance should never be plugged into an extension cord and extension cords — when used — should be strictly temporary.
  • Never use burning candles because they are a significant fire hazard. Use flameless candles instead since they provide the same effect as burning candles — down to the scent in many cases — and, most importantly, are not a fire hazard.
  • Celebrating students should never release metallic balloons because of the fire, safety and outage threat they pose when they get into power lines and electrical equipment. Students should always stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
  •  Never use electronics with frayed or worn cords because of the shock and fire hazards presented by them and use only laboratory-certified appliances and electronics, like those carrying the trusted UL label.
  • Never disable smoke detectors. In fact, every room should have one, they should be tested monthly and their batteries should be changed at least every six months.
  • Have evacuation and emergency preparedness plans, especially for earthquakes. On campus, learn your building’s evacuation routes and, if you live off campus, have an evacuation plan with two ways out of every room.