Over a quarter of UK universities receive fire safety complaints

Over a quarter of UK universities receive fire safety complaints

ACCORDING TO figures released via freedom of information (FoI) requests, 28% of universities in the UK received complaints regarding both fire safety and building evacuation procedures.

Facilities Management Journal reported on the figures, obtained by power management company Eaton, which found that the ‘majority’ of UK universities ‘are failing to invest in new technologies that reduce the risk of electrically ignited fires’. The data came from FoI requests to 134 universities, of which 76 responded, and outlined that over one in four or 28% received complaints from students, staff or the public in the last five years on fire safety or building evacuation procedures.

The news outlet added that ‘despite technological innovation’ and ‘widespread availability of proven fire safety and evacuation solutions’, many universities ‘are abiding by the minimum standards required by regulation but [are] not yet aware of or investing in existing technology which can improve safety standards for their students and staff’.

It also noted that with modern campuses ‘always-on environments’ that are ‘catering to growing demand for energy given the increase in connected devices’, the general uptake in electrical device use means that ‘the need for fire safety measures to protect against electrically ignited fires has never been more important’, especially as 54% - according to other research – of all fires in England are caused by an electrical defect.

The FoI also revealed that many universities ‘have not yet invested’ in fire prevention solutions for such fires, with 63% not having arc fault detection devices (AFDDs) ‘in place’, which are ‘considered the best practice in circuit protection’ due to being able to digitally monitor wires for such faults. Other findings in the survey include that 72% of universities communicate evacuation procedures ‘proactively’ through written mediums.

In turn, 66% of universities communicate through passive written materials such as posters, while 64% use passive digital materials including websites. Eaton pointed out however that this is ‘not yet supported’ by implementing technology to help individuals exit buildings ‘as quickly as possible depending on the type and location of risk’.

Additionally, 92% of universities do not currently have adaptive evacuation signage, digital technology that switches between predefined routes in certain circumstances and guides occupants to the safest available exit. While 16% plan to implement this in the next three years, there is a ‘clear opportunity’ for facilities managers to create a ‘safer environment for students and staff’ and reduce complaints about evacuations in future.

Marc Gaunt, segment lead for commercial buildings at Eaton, commented: ‘Adaptive technology that responds to specific circumstances to ensure safe evacuation of occupants is particularly important for universities, considering the size and complexities of many campus buildings. The changing nature of risk in today’s buildings means there are a wide range of reasons for an evacuation – from fires to floods and terrorism.

‘It’s important university management and facilities managers are constantly re-evaluating the evacuation procedures and newest technologies to help protect students and faculty. This means knowing where the risk is located and not falling back on a “stay put” strategy. New technologies are available that help avoid congestion or unintentionally guiding people towards the threat when trying to evacuate.

‘In a university, where the safety of students is of the utmost importance its imperative facilities managers are continually educating themselves on the newest evacuation technologies and that they are sharing this knowledge with key stakeholders.’