Spring 2010 Volume 47

Feature Articles

Taking A Global Approach To Chemical Hazard Communications

Even with a degree in chemistry, Dave Havick, EMC senior industrial hygienist, admits that the diverse and often confusing array of national and international labeling requirements presents a challenge. “That’s about to change,” says Havick, who joins other safety professionals in full support of OSHA’s proposed adoption of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

Improving Worker Safety
When adopted, GHS will have a dramatic impact on improving safety for workers and others through consistent and simplified communication on chemical hazards and practices to follow for safe handling and use. “It’s all about reducing accidents and illnesses in the workplace,” notes Havick. “Governments will also benefit through improved protection for the public from chemical hazards.”

As a result of the European Union adopting GHS in winter 2008, companies who import chemicals have probably noticed a difference in labels and safety data sheets (SDS). Some of those differences include:

  • The use of hazard pictograms (see page 2) that convey health, physical and environmental hazard information
  • The use of signal words to emphasize hazards and indicate the relative level of severity
  • The use of hazard statements to describe the nature of the hazard
  • The use of a 16-heading SDS that provides vital information in a concise and consistent manner, country to country

Training Is Essential To GHS Success
According to Havick, once GHS is adopted, the biggest challenge facing its implementation will be training. “GHS does not provide any training resources for employers and/or their employees.” As a result, EMC’s Risk Improvement Department is already planning major revisions to its training materials on hazard communications, and Havick will be assisting policyholders to make the adjustment to GHS as easy as possible for them and their staffs.

Today, the hazard communication standard is among the top frequently cited standards by OSHA. “With a more diverse and mobile workforce than ever before, the need for more consistent hazard communication is essential,” advises Havick, who is hopeful that the United States will follow the European Union’s lead in adopting this universal and comprehensive approach to identifying hazardous chemicals.

For more information about OSHA and GHS, visit www.osha.gov.

ONLINE WORKSTATION ERGONOMICS COURSE
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries recently launched the last major module for its office workstation ergonomics course. The online course contains sections on chair adjustment, workstation layout, keyboard and mouse placement, and monitor and document placement. Launch the online course at lni.wa.gov/Safety/TrainTools/Online/Courses/default.asp?P_ID=184.

LEARN ABOUT RESPIRATORS ON YOUTUBE
OSHA has released two new videos to help provide health care workers with training and guidance on respirator safety. Viewers will learn the difference between respirators and face masks and get tips on putting on and taking off a respirator as well as performing a user seal check. Both videos are available on YouTube in English and Spanish-youtube.com/watch?v=ovSLAuY8ib8 and youtube.com/watch?v =Tzpz5fko-fg.

NEW REPORT ON SEAT BELT USE
Passenger vehicle occupants who do not use a safety belt are 17.7 times more likely to be ejected from their vehicles when involved in a crash than occupants who use safety belts, according to a new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Researchers concluded if safety belt use had been 100%, then an additional 5,024 lives would have been saved. Download a full copy of the report at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811206.pdf.

No matter what language your employees speak, they will clearly understand the universal language of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), a language based on the use of highly recognizable pictograms to identify hazardous chemicals.

One of the primary goals of GHS is to enhance the protection of human health and the environment by providing an internationally comprehensible system for identifying hazardous chemicals. The use of pictograms is a step in that direction.

As you can see from the GHS pictograms to the right, these symbols are graphical representations that convey essential and specific information about various chemicals. Your employees should become familiar with these GHS pictograms and their meaning.

Under GHS, these internationally accepted pictograms will appear on chemical labels as well as material safety data sheets.


Warnings

  1. Health Hazards-chemicals that may cause cancer, infertility or genetic defects, asthma-like symptoms, or may damage organs with one or repeated exposures
  2. Gas Under Pressure-contents under pressure and may explode if punctured or heated
  3. Irritant-causes discomfort if swallowed, inhaled or comes into contact with skin or eyes; may cause allergic response to skin
  4. Corrosive-causes burns to skin and eyes; may be corrosive to metals
  5. Explosive-may generate explosive gasses, heat, light, or smoke; may be unstable and explode on contact
  6. Aquatic Pollutant-may be toxic to aquatic life
  7. Oxidizer-may cause fire or explosion by liberating oxygen
  8. Flammable-contents may burn, generate heat during chemical reaction or on contact with water, or may emit flammable gasses
  9. Acute Toxicity-may be toxic or fatal if swallowed, inhaled or comes into contact with skin


For complete hazard definitions, refer to www.osha.gov.

Earlier this year, 24 entertainment firms agreed to pay $70 million to settle age discrimination claims by 165 television writers over the age of 40 in the largest settlement of its kind. It’s not just big business that is being challenged by age discrimination charges. Two out of three small business owners are concerned that employees might bring discrimination claims or other employment-related charges against them, according to a recent survey conducted by Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company (HSB).

The HSB survey of small business owners found that 42% felt more vulnerable to employment charges because of a weak economy and recession-fueled layoffs. In addition, the survey noted that many small business owners greatly underestimate the true cost of defending themselves against an employment claim, which could range from $22,400 to $40,500 or more.

To reduce the likelihood of any employment discrimination charges, EMC loss control experts recommend organizations have a formal policy regarding equal opportunity and harassment/discrimination in place and to make certain employees know and follow those policies. It is also important that the policy includes a formal procedure for investigating complaints.


Employment Practices Liability

Protect Yourself With Employment Practices Liability

Employment practices liability (EPL) coverage is available as part of the EMC Choice Businessowners Program. Our EPL coverage, designed for “main street” businesses with 50 employees or fewer, can help defend against employment discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination employment claims that can be expensive, disruptive and time-consuming.

Other Topics

Dave Havick

As a senior industrial hygienist, part of Dave Havick’s job is to assist employers with their hazard communication program. Although elements of that training may change with the adoption of GHS, the basics will remain the same.

Havick reminds employers that employee training on hazardous chemicals needs to be provided at the time an employee starts working or whenever a new potential hazard is introduced into the workplace. “One of the best ways to protect employee health is by providing information about the materials they work with,” advises Havick. “That means informing employees of the potential hazards, the best ways of handling hazardous materials and the right precautions to take to help ensure everyone is protected and jobs are performed as safely as possible.”

Generally, only the largest insurers have the expertise to handle sprinkler designs or tackle problems such as mold or dangerous school chemicals. And most of the bigger companies limit such assistance to only their largest accounts. But, EMC bucks the trend by providing those same 'larger insurer' services to all of our commercial policyholders.

An inspection of a municipal building reveals that the entrance area allows potentially violent individuals to freely access the building and trap the receptionist with no means of escape. The EMC loss control representative conducting the inspection recommends redesigning the space with a set of inner doors to provide better access control and allow interaction with visitors before letting them in the office.

This is just one of the many situations presented in a new interactive CD from EMC. Designed to make local governments more aware of the loss control risks they face, the CD covers five basic areas— facility, worker, driver and passenger, public, and operations safety. An EMC loss control representative walks viewers through each area, pointing out possible risks and providing recommendations on ways to reduce the likelihood and severity of losses.

Ask your local EMC branch office or independent insurance agent for a copy of this informative loss control presentation or view it online at /lossControl/marketingBrochures.aspx.

If you have suggestions for articles to appear in EMC’s Loss Control Insights, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us about some of the loss control challenges your organization faces. Share some of your loss control best practices. Send us a question that you’ve been struggling with. Your insights will help make our Insights even better. Send your ideas, suggestions and questions to losscontrol@emcins.com.



Insights Online

The following were the top 10 most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009).

  1. Scaffolding
  2. Fall protection
  3. Hazard communication standard
  4. Respiratory protection
  5. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)
  6. Ladders
  7. Powered industrial trucks
  8. Electrical - wiring methods, components and equipment
  9. Electrical systems design
  10. Fall protection - training requirements

For more information, visit OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/frequent_standards.html.

Contractors

To dramatize common hazards at construction sites, Jim Dollard, safety director of IBEW, Local 98, takes viewers through a tour of a high-rise construction project and offers practical solutions to make sites safer.

Every year, on-the-job accidents cost U.S. building owners billions of dollars and cause worker pain, long recuperations and even death. But when construction owners take a more proactive role in exposing hazards, recent studies reveal, job site safety gets a shot in the arm.

Simple steps owners can take to increase safety on construction job sites and significantly reduce costs are highlighted in a four-minute report now included in the latest edition of ElectricTV.net. A joint production of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), ElectricTV.net is the only web TV program dedicated to reporting the latest developments in the electrical construction and information systems industries.

In this informative program, Jim Dollard, Safety Director of IBEW Local 98, leads viewers through a tour of a high-rise construction project in Philadelphia, pointing out common hazards and offering practical solutions owners can take to make their sites safer. The number one hazard on a job site is falling, Dollard notes. Yet protecting workers from life-threatening falls is but one of the many precautions explored. Other areas include secure footing, ladder safety and how to tell if electrical boxes are hot or not.

This edition of ElectricTV.net also features how the city of Ann Arbor, Mich. is cutting their energy costs in half by turning to LED lighting; a story on the many advantages a design/build electrical contractor brings to a construction project; and a spotlight on how NECA/IBEW's unique training programs are preparing the green workers America needs both today and tomorrow. To view this video on YouTube, click here.

Source: National Electrical Contractors Association

High-visibility warning garments are required safety attire for highway and road construction workers, according to a new letter of interpretation released by OSHA.

High-visibility warning garments are required safety attire for highway and road construction workers according to a new letter of interpretation recently released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"Highway construction workers should not suffer serious or fatal injuries simply because they could not be seen," said Jordan Barab, acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. "Requiring the use of reflective vests is essential to help prevent workers from being injured or killed."

In 2004, OSHA issued a letter of interpretation about the use of high-visibility apparel in highway construction. The letter emphasized that section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA act requires workers in highway work zones to wear high-visibility apparel.

However, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission ruled that OSHA's letter indicated a more limited position: high-visibility garments are only required when the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) mandates their use.

Therefore, OSHA is issuing a new letter stating that all highway and road construction workers must wear high-visibility apparel regardless of whether the MUTCD requires them. OSHA considers road and construction traffic to be a well-recognized hazard to highway/road construction workers. Bureau of Labor Statistics reinforced the need for using safety apparel when data from 2003 to 2007 showed there were 425 road construction work zone fatalities.

For additional information on this topic, visit www.osha.gov.

Source: Occupational Safety & Health Administration

Local Governments

Need quick access to information about various grant programs available through the U.S. Fire Administration? It’s easier than ever to obtain that information on the Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program’s redesigned website.

Looking for funds to enhance your ability to protect the public and fire service personnel from fire and related hazards? Check out the redesigned website of the Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program—firegrantsupport.com. The website’s new layout offers quick access to information about the various grant programs available—Assistance To Firefighter Grants (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants (SAFER), Fire Prevention and Safety Grants (FP&S) and Assistance to Firefighters Fire Station Construction Grants (SCG).

Online tutorials will familiarize you with the grant management process. There are several tips and step-by-step instructions for navigating the online management tools, requesting payments and amendments, and reporting requirements. You can to select the specific subject matter of interest, which quickly obtains needed information to assist in managing a successful grant.

The Assistance To Firefighter Grant Program, which is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, awarded 6,000 grants in 2008, totaling $737.5 million. To learn more, visit www.firegrantsupport.com.

Source: www.firegrantsupport.com

There is new protection for EMS workers who care for victims of hazardous-substance release incidents. A recently published OSHA document covers hazard assessment and emergency response plans, as well as appropriate training and personal protective equipment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a guidance document, titled “Best Practices for Protecting EMS Responders During Treatment and Transport of Victims of Hazardous Substance Releases,” that addresses adequate training and personal protective equipment for emergency medical services responders who assist victims of hazardous substance release incidents.

This document, a companion to OSHA’s “Best Practices for Hospital-Based First Receivers,” advises that employers provide, at a minimum, awareness-level training to EMS responders. Workers receiving awareness-level training are not permitted to rescue or treat contaminated patients, but are responsible for notifying authorities if they suspect hazardous substances at a scene. Operations-level training teaches EMS responders skills for entering hazardous areas and caring for contaminated individuals.

“Healthcare workers, including EMS personnel, play a critical role in a community's emergency response program,” said Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Emergency workers who protect the lives of victims at dangerous incidents should not risk becoming victims themselves because they lack proper training and protective clothing.”

The guidance document helps employers determine the type of training and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed by anticipating the EMS responder’s role in a worst-case scenario, identifying hazards associated with the responder's assigned duties, and developing an emergency response plan detailing safe accomplishment of those duties.

You can download a PDF of the guidance, “Best Practices For Protecting EMS Responders” at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3370-protecting-EMS-respondersSM.pdf.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Petroleum Marketers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched a pre-employment screening program to allow commercial carriers to electronically access applicants inspection and crash histories.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced that it will launch a new Driver Pre-Employment Screening Program which will allow commercial motor carrier companies to electronically access driver inspection and crash records as a part of the hiring process.

"Safety is our number one priority at the Department of Transportation. This new initiative will help trucking companies ensure the safest drivers are behind the wheel of commercial trucks and buses," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Making this information more transparent will make our roads and highways safer for everyone."

By using driver safety information during pre-employment screening, motor carriers will be able to better assess potential safety risks of a prospective driver-employee, and drivers will have additional opportunities to verify the data in their driving history and correct any discrepancies.

Commercial driver safety records are currently available to federal and state law enforcement personnel, and accessible to drivers through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Once the pre-employment screening program is launched, driver safety records will be readily available to motor carriers regardless of state or jurisdiction. In accordance with federal privacy laws, drivers must first give written consent in order for their records to be released.

The Driver Pre-Employment Screening Program will be populated by FMCSA's Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS). The MCMIS is comprised of driver performance data including roadside inspection and compliance review results, enforcement data, state-reported crashes and motor carrier census data.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

According to the National Retail Federation, 92% of retailers said they were victims of organized retail crime in the last year. Find out what some retailers are doing to combat the situation.

Reports Of Increase Crime
When a kid shoplifts a pack of gum from a convenience store, that’s a crime. But when these sticky-fingered young criminals realize their dreams of turning pro, that’s organized crime, a growing problem that costs retailers and consumers billions of dollars a year.

Organized retail theft, as the government calls the phenomenon, has attracted the attention of lawmakers and law enforcement as a criminal growth industry that accounts for $30 billion in losses each year. And while the majority of professional shoplifters still focus on larger retail establishments—where they can swipe costly items like designer clothing, jewelry and electronics— the convenience retailing sector is hardly immune.

“Shoplifting has always been a problem in convenience stores, but organized shoplifting is an entirely different beast. As the Targets and Walmarts of the world work to make their properties less hospitable to thieves, these gangs are undoubtedly looking for other, easier targets. And convenience stores are finding themselves in the crosshairs,” said Lyle Beckwith, National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) senior vice president of government relations. “It’s a threat that is just now emerging, but it is certainly one the industry should be tracking,” Beckwith said.

The problem, fueled in recent years by a booming online market for stolen goods, has experienced an unprecedented growth spurt in the last two years as the economy has struggled. According to the National Retail Federation’s fifth annual Organized Retail Crime Survey, issued in 2009, 92 percent of retailers said organized, professional shoplifting gangs hit them, and 73 percent said the problem was growing.

“The unfortunate economic events of the past year have played an intricate role in how criminals continue to rip off the retail industry,” said Joe LaRocca, NRF senior asset protection advisor. “Organized retail crime rings have realized that tough economic times present new business opportunities by stealing valuable items from retailers and selling the merchandise to consumers looking for bargains.”

Prime Targets
What kinds of stores are most vulnerable to organized retail theft? Well, according to a 2007 U.S. Justice Department report, it all depends on what kind of merchandise a store sells.

“Perhaps the principal factor determining a store’s shoplifting rate is the type of goods sold. For obvious reasons, furniture stores have much lower shoplifting rates than, say, convenience or drug stores,” the report said, though, like many studies, it failed to distinguish between casual, opportunistic shoplifting and organized retail theft.

Among shoplifters’ favorite targets are smaller, high-demand items that are easy to steal and easy to resell. The Justice Department’s list of frequently swiped goods included many items sold in convenience stores: cigarettes, batteries, over-the-counter remedies, beauty aids, pens, trinkets such as key chains and action figures, and CDs and DVDs.

Keeping a close eye on shrinkage of certain products can help retailers determine if they have been targeted by professional shoplifters, according to Chuck Miller, a security consultant for the Retail Industry Network and author of industry handbook Organized Retail Theft.

“Retailers should be particularly aware of organized retail theft when shrink figures for cosmetics, over-the-counter drugs, pain relievers, films, batteries, vitamins, etc., consistently are above expectations. Shrink figures at 15 percent to 40 percent for a single product or groups of similar products often indicate an organized retail theft ring is working the area,” he said.

C-Store “Fences”
At the same time, convenience store operators can be victimized on both ends of the organized retail theft enterprise, unwittingly or otherwise. The FBI lists convenience stores, along with flea markets and online outlets, as places thieves turn to to dispose of stolen merchandise.

“Boosters—the front line thieves who intend to resell stolen goods—generally coordinate with ‘fences’ who may sell the items outright at flea markets or convenience stores or online, or repackage them for sale to higher level fences. The problem is significant for its negative economic impact, the safety issues it brings to unsuspecting consumers, and its potential link to other criminal enterprises,” said David Johnson, section chief of the FBI’s criminal division.

A Good Location
As the numbers continue to spike, the FBI says it’s on the case. Convenience stores focused on stopping amateurs and opportunists face a far more daunting task in dealing with professionals experienced in evading sophisticated security protocols. They may use everything from new handheld technologies to fake mustaches to thwart even the best antitheft practices. “These criminal groups are particularly nimble—able to easily change their appearance, alter their method of operation and are particularly adept at circumventing security devices and procedures,” Johnson said.

Resourceful and clever, professional shoplifters are, just that, professional: “They frequently identify store locations with global positioning systems (GPS), identify escape routes, use false identification, utilize rented or borrowed vehicles, and employ diversionary tactics in stores. They are known to travel from state to state or city to city following interstate corridors around large cities,” Johnson said.

Rosemary Erickson, a sociologist who studies retail crime as president of Athena Research Corporation, said stores located close to convenient escape routes like highways could be more attractive to professional shoplifters, just as they are to other criminals. “There’s always a greater risk if you’re near an interstate or other highway. That’s been the case for robberies and it certainly applies to shoplifting gangs as well,” she said. Erickson added that convenience stores also have become more attractive targets for organized shoplifting gangs as they have added new lines of merchandise, like CDs, DVDs and electronic gadgets, that thieves covet for their easy resale potential.

Experienced Professionals
How sophisticated have professional shoplifters become? Recently, the Kansas City Police Department, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service charged seven suspects with operating a theft ring that included benefits for its employees. The ring stole and attempted to resell $1.2 million worth of goods, employing its own IT department to liquidate its inventory online.

Court records showed the operation hired low-level shoplifters to handle acquisition, paying them a percentage of their profits. These “boosters” were given gas cards to cover transportation expenses, and the operation included bail money as a perk.

To address the problem, in 2007, the Justice Department established the Law Enforcement Retail Partnership Network (LERPnet), a database to allow retailers to track and identify organized retail theft online. So far, nearly 100,000 retail locations have shared information with the LERPnet database (lerpnet.com), which can be accessed by law enforcement to search reported incidents and track organized retail theft nationwide.

The September 30, 2009, report from LERPnet, which covered the first three quarters of 2009, included nearly 25,000 incidents with losses totaling $19 million. The report found that Friday was the busiest day for retail criminals and that the highest number of incidents per hour were reported between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Fighting Back
Congress, meanwhile, has responded with several bills that are backed by NACS, NRF, the Food Marketing Institute and other members of the Coalition Against Organized Retail Crime. Among them: the E-Fencing Enforcement Act of 2009 (H.R. 1166), Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 (H.R. 1173) and the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 (S. 470). All of the bills contain language aimed at preventing organized shoplifting by cutting off thieves’ access to online markets and toughening the way federal criminal codes treat organized retail theft.

“In the midst of the deepening economic crisis, organized retail crime seems to be flourishing,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the lead sponsor of S. 470. “Organized theft affects struggling retailers’ bottom lines at a time when they can afford it least, and the resale of these stolen goods puts consumers at tremendous risk of buying tainted or outdated products,” he added.

Representative Brad Ellsworth (D­IN), the sponsor of H.R. 1173, said organized retail theft can take place anywhere, even in tiny Vanderburgh County, Indiana, where he formerly served as sheriff. “I spent a career in law enforcement and saw the problems associated with organized retail crime first­hand. The Internet enables these criminals to expand their operations from the flea markets and pawn shops we all think about to millions of unsuspecting consumers’ living rooms,” he said.

The Coalition Against Organized Retail Crime urges its members and others concerned about the issue to contact their lawmakers in support of the initiatives: “Every moment that this serious crime persists, consumers are placed in harm’s way, our economy is further crippled and other kinds of crime are bred,” the coalition said.

Unsafe Budget Cuts
While the recession may be contributing to the rise of organized shoplifting, it is also pressing some cash-strapped retailers to cut back on their investments in in-store security. But research shows that retailers who cut back on security spending do so at their own peril.

The U.K.-based Centre for Retail Research reported in its 2009 Global Retail Theft Barometer that retailers decreased spending on security by $900 million between 2008 and 2009, a period that saw an increase of $10 billion in losses for U.K. retailers, to $115 billion worldwide. The report said U.S. retailers lost more than $42 billion to shrinkage, which included theft other than organized shoplifting in 2009, an increase of nearly 9 percent over 2008.

“While retailers have had to cut budgets in most areas, this year’s study shows the adverse effect of cutting spending too deeply in the area of loss prevention. Prudent spending in this area can have a very positive effect on bottom-line numbers and act as a force-multiplier, especially as budgets for training programs and security personnel are reduced,” said Rob van der Merwe, president and CEO of Checkpoint Systems Inc., the theft barometer report’s sponsor.

“The correlation between $900 million in decreased security spending and a $10 billion increase in theft is very significant. It highlights the importance of continued advancement and improvement of loss prevention programs,” added Joshua Bamfield, director of the British Centre for Retail Research.

Among the most effective antishoplifting initiatives: security cameras, strict monitoring of inventory and a store layout that promotes visibility. Perhaps the best deterrent, experts agree, is also among the cheapest: training employees to better spot thieves.

This article, written by Scott Orr, a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., is reprinted with permission from NACS Magazine, The Association of Convenience & Petroleum Retailing, www.nacsonline.com.

Schools

Read about how a Connecticut state representative is getting the attention of lawmakers to consider more stringent seat belt legislation following a deadly school bus crash in his home state. For full details, visit http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/east/2010/01/13/106589.htm.



Approximately 3,800 fires occur annually in housing at institutions of higher learning, the vast majority of which are cooking fires. Learn more about the risks your institution faces in a recent report published by the U.S. Fire Administration.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) United States Fire Administration (USFA) has issued a special report examining the causes and characteristics of fires in institutions of higher education residential buildings that include dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses. The report, University Housing Fires, was developed by the National Fire Data Center and is a part of the USFA’s Topical Fire Report Series.

Report Findings
An estimated average of 3,800 fires occurs each year in university and college dwellings. Annually, these fires are responsible for 5 deaths, 50 civilian injuries, and $26 million in property losses. Other key findings include:

  • Eighty-three percent of these fires are cooking fires of which 77% are small, confined cooking fires. Cooking fires account for 6% of all nonconfined university housing fires.
  • These types of fires peak in September and October, accounting for 23% of fires.
  • The three main causes of nonconfined fires are intentionally set fires (17%), open flames (15%) and other unintentional causes (12%).
  • One-fifth of nonconfined fires in bedrooms are started by candles.
  • Ninety-four percent of fires occur in dormitories and dormitory-type residences. Six percent occur in fraternity and sorority houses.
  • Fires are most frequent in the evening hours from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. when students prepare snacks or cook meals.

Examples Of Fires At Institutions Of Higher Education
The following are some recent examples of university and college housing fires that were reported by the media:

  • May 2009: Two Central Connecticut State University students were accused of setting off the fire alarms with burning popcorn after they tied the doors shut to several dorm rooms. Their intent was to pull a prank in the residence hall. Police and firefighters secured the scene. No one was injured during the incident.
  • May 2009: Several Northern Illinois University students were displaced after a fire broke out in their fraternity house. One person was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The cause of the fire is unknown, but it started on a sofa on the front porch of the house. Smoking materials have not been ruled out as the cause of ignition.
  • April 2009: Beaumont firefighters determined that a Lamar University residence hall fire was caused by a bathroom vent fan that was left running while no one was in the room. It appears that the motor had shorted or overheated, caught on fire, and burned a portion of the bathroom. The fire was confined to the bathroom, and the residence hall’s sprinkler system activated, putting out the flames. The fire alarms alerted students and staff, and everyone evacuated the residence hall.
  • May 2009: Quick responses by the local fire department and employees of the University of the Cumberlands attributed to containing a small fire in a residence hall caused by a burning stove and microwave oven. No one was hurt during the fire and the building sustained only minor damage.

Fire Safety Education Is Crucial
"The safety of this nation’s students is important to all fire departments facing the challenges presented by today’s higher education institutions," said Kelvin J. Cochran, United States Fire Administrator. "The simple act of cooking by students continues to present dangers when safety is taken for granted. It is our desire through this report, and others like it, to continue our support of fire safety efforts by all fire departments working closely with faculty to ensure a safe and fire-free educational environment."

As the report concludes, the challenge for communities and the fire service is to pinpoint the reasons why college and university housing fires occur and to address these issues to prevent future fires, deaths, injuries and severe property damage. Providing students with fire safety education upon their arrival to the universities may help increase awareness and prevent fires.

Source: United States Fire Administration