These and other common campus hazards can turn an institution of learning, athletics and social interaction into a stressful, and even deadly, environment for students and staff. Taking proper precautions, however, reduces risk.
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1. Fire Hazards
Fire can be one of the most devastating disasters on a college campus, so prevention is key.
- Overloaded power strips or outlets: Phones, laptops, lamps, TVs, hair tools and other electrical devices all plugged in at once can cause fires. Provide information on fire prevention in dorm welcome packets.
- Clutter: Excessive clutter blocks exit routes and can catch fire if it comes in contact with electrical or heat-producing items such as hot hair tools and heating systems. Residence staff should conduct room walk-throughs each semester to spot hazards like this.
- Kitchen fires: Students may not have cooked for themselves before, may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, feel sleep-deprived or just have a kitchen accident. Prepare for grease and regular fires by providing fire extinguishers in dormitory kitchens and installing smoke alarms.
- Problems with fire exits: Each semester, check to make sure the required number of fire exit signs are installed and the exits are in working order.
- Problems with alarm or fire suppression systems: Test these systems each semester in every room.
2. Infectious Diseases
An outbreak of infectious disease decreases performance in both academics and sports, puts students’ futures in danger and can even damage the university’s reputation.
- Flu: Hold a flu shot clinic on campus. Encourage students and staff to participate using posters and a school-wide email campaign.
- Colds, stomach virus and other illnesses: At the beginning of each semester, send out a campus-wide email with information on good hygiene habits that reduce the risk of illness. Include this information in dorm welcome packets, too. In addition, hang posters encouraging healthy habits (e.g. hand-washing, how to cough and sneeze properly).
- Blood-borne illnesses: Recommend that all students get vaccinated against diseases such as the different strains of hepatitis. To boost efforts, hold a vaccination clinic on campus. Provide information on safe sexual and injection practices.
- Sexually-transmitted infections: Provide information on safe sex at your campus health center. Offer free sexual barriers. Include low-cost STI screenings and tests in health center services.
- Meningitis: Require all students living in residence to get a meningitis vaccine.
RELATED: 9 Steps to a Safer Campus
3. Poorly-Lit Areas
Poorly-lit areas pose two main risks: accidents and crime. With low visibility, students may trip on uneven surfaces or other hazards, veer off a path, fall down stairs or even get lost. Dark areas also make it easy for criminals to hide, increasing the risk of robbery and assault.
To reduce risk, take these preventive actions:
- Install more or better lighting on pathways, in stairwells, in parking lots and in hallways
- Encourage students to use “the buddy system” when walking on campus at night
- Have security officers on call who can walk students to their car or dorm
- Assign campus police officers to patrol poorly-lit areas
- Install emergency phones or buttons around campus with direct lines to campus police, local law enforcement or 911
4. Lab and Workshop Accidents
Campus labs and workshops pose unique hazards for students. Chemical burns, inhalation of dust and noxious fumes and wounds from broken materials, tools and equipment all call for strong preventive strategies.
To protect students from lab and workshop accidents:
- Provide training on tools, equipment and materials before they start projects
- Don’t allow students to work alone
- Practice good housekeeping and cleanup, including disposal of hazardous waste and lab coat cleaning
- Require students to wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, lab coats or aprons, safety glasses and ear protection when appropriate
- Keep inventory of tools, equipment and chemicals
- Equip labs and workshops with emergency supplies (e.g. first aid kit, eye wash station)
5. Weather-Related Hazards
Common campus hazards related to weather pose a risk to students all year long.
- Ice, snow and rain: Plow sidewalks, pathways and roads in a timely fashion. Use ice melt around campus to prevent slippery walking conditions. Lay down mats on hard floors in campus buildings and put up “caution: wet floor” signs to prevent slips and falls indoors.
- Extreme temperatures: Conduct bi-annual tests of heating and cooling systems in campus buildings. To prepare for extreme cold, put together an emergency store of supplies including shelf-stable food, blankets and outerwear. In heat waves, set up stations around campus where students can grab water and cool towels.
- Natural disasters and severe storms: Create emergency plans in your university policies and procedures for events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and winter storms.
Download this cheat sheet to learn five effective tactics to improve campus safety.