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Safe as houses? Fire safety and high-rise student accommodation

Thursday 7 September 2017 NUS News

The Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington caused at least 80 deaths and over 70 injuries, with many more missing. The tragedy has had a number of implications for student accommodation. 

Why is this an issue for students?

A number of student halls are high rise blocks (over six storeys). Concerns have also been raised about the potential use of potentially dangerous cladding, similar to that found on the Grenfell Tower, on the exterior of these halls, and what this could mean for student safety.

Our action

Since the Grenfell Tower fire we have taken a number of actions to help ensure the safety of students. Most recently we have developed a leaflet for students to explain the issue, including a checklist to help students understand and check the safety of their building. 

Before developing this resource we took the following action:

  • Co-signed letter to accommodation providers who are members of the accommodation codes, as well as continued work to influence and monitor these providers

  • Attending a roundtable on fire safety with representatives from the student accommodation sector and government officials

  • Letter to Sajid Javid MP, urging him to recognise the concerns of students

  • Initial briefing for students’ unions with suggested next steps

NUS has the following tips for students who are concerned about the safety of their accommodation.

Look at the bigger picture

A number of factors have been sighted for contributing to the incident. Most visibly the use of flammable cladding (called ACM) was an important factor in spreading the fire beyond the flat it originated in, however this is only part of the picture. For example, residents complained frequently before the fire of fire alarms not working and exposed gas pipes.

More recently experts have said that it is important to look at the whole picture including how the building is operated and managed rather than just focus on building materials.

Get informed

Read our leaflet and take some time to understand the fire safety precautions that are in operation in your building. Look into whether these precautions are being followed by fellow students as well as your housing provider, and whether your provider is keeping proper records. If your building has failed the cladding tests, is your provider taking the appropriate steps? You can find more detailed information about these steps in the leaflet.

Communicate

If you are concerned, talk to your accommodation provider to understand what safety measures are in place. If you are not satisfied with their response you can also speak to your students’ union advice service, your welfare officer, or your local fire and rescue services.

Remember you can contact Izzy Lenga, Vice President Welfare, at izzy.lenga@nus.org.uk if you have any questions or concerns.

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