College dorm room essential: safety

Tangled power cords and electrical outlet
Tangled power cords and electrical outlet

Personalization is a big trend for college dorm rooms and shared housing facilities. College ­furnishings — from bedding and décor to kitchen supplies and electronics — are often reflective of interests and future ­aspirations. One essential for the ­college residence that students might not think of is safety.

Don’t assume your college student understands electrical safety before going off to school. Talk to them about the importance of safety and how to set up their dorm room to be a safe one.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 3,810 structure fires in college housing between 2007 and 2011, causing an ­average of two deaths, 30 fire injuries, and $9.4 ­million in direct property damage.

There is a tendency for college ­students to want to bring everything they own. The limited number of electric outlets in student rooms can tempt many to use multiple extension cords and power strips, which can cause cords to overheat, creating shock and fire hazards.

Potentially older wiring in student housing and apartments may not be able to handle the increased electrical demand of today’s college student. If use of an appliance frequently causes power to trip off, or if its power cord or the outlet feels hot, the appliance should be disconnected immediately and the condition reported to the landlord or campus housing staff.

Safe Electricity offers the following safety tips for students to help prevent and reduce the risk of electrical fires in their student housing:

• Only purchase and use elec­trical products tested for safety. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ­publishes a list of approved ­testing ­laboratories. Some ­common approved safety labels include: Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and MET Laboratories (MET).

• Avoid overloading extension cords, power strips, or outlets.

• Use power strips with an over-current protector that will shut off power ­auto­matically if there is too much current being drawn.

• Never tack or nail an electrical cord to any surface or run cords across traffic paths or under rugs where they can be trampled or damaged.

• Use the correct wattage light bulbs for lamps and fixtures. If no ­indication is on the product, do not use a bulb with more than 60 watts. Use cooler, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

• Keep all electrical appliances and cords safely away from ­bedding, ­curtains, papers, and other ­flammable material.

• Make sure outlets around sinks are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) before use. If they are not, contact the resident assistant, camping housing staff or landlord.

• Unplug small appliances when not in use and all electronics when away for extended periods.

• Always use microwave-safe ­containers. Glass, ceramic ­containers, and plastics labeled

Molly Hall is Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council.
Molly Hall is Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council.

“microwave-safe” should always be used. Metal and aluminum foil can damage the microwave or start a fire. If the microwave is damaged in any way, do not use it.

• Smoke detectors should never be disabled and fire alarms should never be ignored or taken casually as a drill. Every time a fire alarm sounds, residents should calmly and quickly follow practiced ­procedures and immediately exit the building.

Please stress to students that in the event of a fire, it is important to ­follow safety procedures and get out of harm’s way immediately. Property and valuables can be replaced, but lives cannot.

For more electrical safety ­information, visit