As you and your college-bound young adults tick off the items on their packing checklist, don’t forget about electrical safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated 3,800 structure fires on college campuses each year. While most accidental college fires are caused by cooking, many can start from overloaded power strips and outlets, space heaters and other unsafe electrical habits.
Students can prevent a potential fire just by being mindful about how they’re plugging in their electronics. Extension cords are only meant to be used for a temporary solution, and can pose a serious hazard if overloaded, stored under rugs or exposed to damp areas (like a bathroom or kitchen). Instead, plan your furniture and electronic arrangement around the outlets. If there aren’t enough places to plug in equipment, look for opportunities to rotate items, such as a lamp and a cellphone charger.
If an extension cord or power strip is used, be sure it has been approved by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Also, when trying to keep the cord out of the way, do not staple it, store it under rugs or pinch it between furniture. These techniques can cause the wires to break and fray, making them a fire hazard.
In colder months, students may pull out space heaters to help warm their space. Given the generally small space of dorms, these can sometimes end up near flammable materials such as drapes, bedding and furniture. Find a clear and safe area to place your heater and other hot items, like portable stoves, before plugging them in.
Finally, your kid won’t be the only young adult living in the building – make sure your student knows the warning signs of an electrical fire and that they feel empowered to step in if they notice a hazard.
Sounds of buzzing and sizzling, and smells of a hotplate are all indicators that wires or circuits are being overheated.
Any type of electrical shock, even mild, is a warning of electrical danger. It may be a frayed wire or a short in the circuit that could become worse.
Also, be aware of circuits that frequently lose power, lights that dim or flicker, and any type of spark or flash of light within your electrical system – these are all signs to a potentially bigger problem.
If an electrical issue is expected: remove any electronics; cut off power supply if possible; and notify your school, landlord or an electrician immediately. If a fire does occur, do not throw water on it – only a chemical fire extinguisher can be used on an electrical fire. If the fire is too large to contain, pull the nearest fire alarm and exit the building immediately.
We know you will worry while your kids are away, but preparing them with the tips and advice they need will give you some peace of mind as they enter adulthood.