Controlling the Risk of Fire in Student Accommodation

With a new academic year beginning, many students will be living away from home for the first time, often in halls of residence or other student accommodation.

While this new-found independence brings with it a lot of advantages and opportunities for growth and development, there are also hazards to be aware of.

According to a survey of 2011/2012 university students conducted by public sector insurer; Zurich Municipal, 81% regularly undertook activities that risked fire in their halls of rented accommodation.

Fire Safety in University Accomodation

The survey highlights risky behaviours, such as cooking while tired or under the influence of alcohol, as well as improperly disposing of lit cigarettes or forgetting to turn off high-heat appliances such as hair straighteners.

With this in mind, Approved Document B (ADB) (fire safety) Volume 2: Buildings Other Than Dwellinghouses of the Building Regulations lays out a number of methods of meeting these complex requirements.

Under ADB, buildings over 11m in height, or with more than 3 storeys above ground level must have multiple staircases, and the distance from a flat’s entrance door to a common stair or stair lobby must be 9m in one direction, or 35m in multiple directions.

While this is a fairly straightforward method of meeting Building Regulations requirements, it is also extremely inflexible, limiting design freedom and the amount of space available within a building. Fortunately, it is perfectly acceptable to overcome these restrictions by taking an engineered approach, provided the same levels of fire protection are provided as laid out in ADB.

By involving experienced fire engineers in the creation of student accommodation, it is possible to not only extend travel distances from apartments to stairs/stair lobbies, but also to omit the inclusion of additional staircases, providing significant cost and space savings. By only featuring a single staircase, buildings over 11m in height can be provided with significant additional floor-space, allowing apartments to be extended, or for more apartments to be added to a property’s general floor arrangement plans.

These changes can be made through the inclusion of highly effective mechanical smoke ventilation systems, which protect the staircase from smoke ingress in the event of a fire. By utilising CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) Modelling during the design stage, our experts can demonstrate the efficiency of these systems, and their ability to provide an appropriate level of protection for occupants during escape.

There are also a number of ways that occupants can exit the building in the event of fire, depending on the strategy put in place: simultaneous evacuation – which sees all of the occupants exit at once, phased evacuation – where only the affected floor (or floor above) is evacuated, and a ‘defend in place’ strategy – where those not in the fire-affected apartment can remain in their apartment if they choose to.

Whichever approach is taken, it’s important to keep in mind that fire prevention should always be the priority, and this is best achieved by educating new and returning students alike on the potential causes of fire, and the best ways to minimise this risk.

For more information of FDS Consult, visit: http://www.fdsconsult.com/

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