Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

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Shared Accommodation

Electrical Safety

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that from 1990-95, 553 people in the UK died from electrical-related incidents. In 1995 there were 121 electrical fires. One of the main causes of these fires was overloading current-carrying conductors, which led to the exposed hot wires igniting flammable materials.

Students are notorious for overusing electrical circuits. Student houses tend to have more portable electrical appliances than other houses. In a house containing four students there are likely to be four PCs, four CD players, four portable TVs, a video, a toaster and a kettle. The HSE estimates that 25% of electrical incidents involve portable equipment.

Students often rent converted family homes in the private sector. However, the electrical wiring may not have been adapted to cope with the new, increased usage. Student houses also tend to be older properties, in which the wiring may be deteriorating.

The legal position

The legislative framework that surrounds electrical safety is vague. There is no legislation to enforce the testing of the safety of electrical equipment, nor is the installation of equipment regulated.

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require employers to prevent danger and injury to others. This might cover halls and hostels where cleaning staff are employed, but it is not relevant to other types of private sector accommodation

unless a cleaner is employed. The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 apply to anyone supplying electrical equipment as part of their business: this covers equipment supplied under a letting agreement.

Section 604 of the Housing Act 1985 states that a house is fit for habitation unless it fails to meet certain criteria, one of which is being free from serious disrepair. Faulty electrical installations come under this category, although non-compliance with current standards does not.

Advice to tenants

The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) and the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) recommend conducting an electrical installation safety check every five years, with a certificate detailing any works required and the date of the inspection.
  • Ask for copies of these certificates and check the date of the inspection.
  • If the inspection was more than five years ago, ask the landlord* to arrange for another by a competent contractor.
  • Ask the landlord whether he has carried out an annual visual inspection of all socket outlets, switches, lamp holders, distribution boards and safety devices.
  • Check for danger signs. Look for these signs that wiring may be faulty: hot plugs and sockets; fuses that blow for no obvious
  • Please note that the term 'landlord' is used for the sake of convenience. The advice is equally important for landladies.

reason; lights flickering; brown scorch marks on sockets and plugs; broken, damaged or cracked fittings; and exposed or bare wiring.

  • Are all electrical appliances fitted with a BS 1363 plug? If not, replace them.
  • Make sure plug socket outlets are not overloaded and that extension leads are fully unwound.
  • Never use an appliance that is plugged into the mains in a bathroom.
  • Never touch appliances with wet hands.
  • Extractor fans in the bathroom should be well away from the shower or sink.
  • Check for risks and hazards that overload circuits. These include: damaged sections of cable; faulty immersion heaters; extension leads under carpets; poor kitchen facilities; open-bar fires; inadequate lighting; appliances that are the property of the tenant; exposed electrical installations; socket outlets near the sink; extractor fans in the shower; low-quality furnishings; second-hand electrical equipment - anything that might lead to tenants plugging more electrical appliances in.

for more information go to our main Electrical safety page

Furniture safety

The main cause of death in house fires is from the noxious fumes given off by the flammable materials within furniture and furnishings.

The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 set guidelines on materials that could be used, although they only came into effect in 1997 for the whole of the rented sector. As much of the rented sector accommodation consists of older houses, there is no guarantee that the furniture supplied is not old and potentially lethal.

The legal situation

The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 apply to landlords and letting agents who rent property as part of a business. All upholstered furniture, whether new or second-hand, must comply with fire safety standards. Both coverings and fillings should pass ignition-resistance tests. The supplier of the furniture and furnishings is responsible for compliance with the regulations, depending on how the property is let and the nature of the letting agreement. Any furniture supplied by the tenant is not covered by the regulations.

The situation is less clear with lodgings. When a business arrangement is apparent and the furniture is for the occupier, it should comply with the regulations but only if the tenancy has not been continuous since 1993 or the furniture was not made before 1950. When the furniture is shared as part of a family home, or was brought in by the tenant, it is not covered by the regulations.

Advice to tenants

  • Ask the landlord or agent for a written inventory. This should indicate what furniture is provided and the condition it is in.
  • Check for labels on the furniture stating whether it was manufactured using safe materials. All new furniture should carry a display label, apart from: mattresses and bed bases; pillows; scatter cushions and seat pads; and loose and stretch covers for furniture.
  • If there is no label, or if the item is clearly old, seek advice from the trading standards department of your local council.

Gas safety

Each year about 30 people die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed or maintained. Since 1992, 10 students have died from, and thousands more made ill by, exposure to CO. CO cannot be seen, tasted or smelt but it can kill without warning in a few hours. People are most vulnerable when they are asleep.

The legal situation

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations require landlords to make sure that appliances and flues are maintained in good order and checked for safety every 12 months. An annual service inspection is not the same thing as a safety check. Landlords must keep the record of safety checks for at least two years. They should issue each tenant with a copy of a safety check record within 28 days of completion, unless the only appliance is an out-housed central heating boiler. With out-housed central heating boilers a landlord should post one copy of the record in a central position within the accommodation. Tenants can get a copy if they wish.

There must be a safety check within 12 months of the installation of a gas appliance, with repeat checks at least every 12 months. Before a new lease begins, landlords must have a safety check on any gas appliance or flue that has been installed for a year or more. All tenants should get a copy of the record of the latest safety check within 28 days of the check being made. New tenants should get a copy before they move in.

This responsibility applies to fixed and portable gas appliances. Any contract should clearly state who is responsible for making safety checks,

carrying out maintenance and keeping records. You cannot use an appliance that fails a check. Tenants are responsible for maintaining and checking their own appliances.

By law, anyone working on an appliance or fitting must be registered with the Council of Registered Gas Installers (CORGI). The installers should carry either a current CORGI registration certificate or a CORGI identification card.

There is a restriction on which gas appliances can be installed in sleeping accommodation, with the exception of the room-sealed type of appliance. It is also illegal to install instantaneous water heaters that are not room sealed or fitted with a safety device which automatically turns off before dangerous levels of fumes build up.

Advice to tenants

  • Watch out for gas appliances that produce soot, or that have flames burning yellow instead of blue.
  • If you experience symptoms such as headaches, chest pains, sickness or dizziness, stop using gas appliances immediately and seek medical advice.
  • Do not use the appliance again until it has been checked.
  • Never block air bricks or vents in rooms where there is a gas appliance. It needs air to burn efficiently.
  • When moving into a new property, check that previous tenants have not blocked up the vents. Even on very cold nights, do not cover draught-proof doors and windows in rooms containing an appliance, as this may lead to the production of CO.Check the gas appliances for safety in rooms fitted with draught excluders or double glazing, or in a conservatory.
  • Ask for a copy of the safety check record. If necessary, write to the landlord. He has 10 days to comply with your request.
  • If the landlord fails to produce this record, contact either the Health and Safety Executive helpline (0800 300363) or the local authority Environmental Health Department.
  • Ask the landlord to install a CO detector. There are several available with the British Standard. They are either battery or mains operated but it is more advisable to use the mains operated type. Detectors are useful but they are not a substitute for annual safety checks.
  • CO is also produced by heating and cooking appliances fuelled by coal, smokeless fuels, wood and oil. If you suspect that they are installed incorrectly or if ventilation is poor, get them checked by a competent engineer.
  • Empty ash from solid-fuel appliances regularly as it may hinder the fire from burning properly.
  • Check that the landlord gets the chimney swept at least once a year.
  • Check that the landlord cleans the flueways on an appliance monthly and regularly sweeps the pipes connecting the appliance to the chimney.

for more information go to our main Heating systems page

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