How to Keep Safe at University

Image shows rows of yellow tape reading "caution."

Going to university is a life-changing event, and an exciting one at that.

But with it comes a host of new responsibilities and concerns that you probably won’t have had to think about before. One of those concerns is safety. It may be the least of your worries when you’ve got a new way of life to get used to, but bearing in mind the safety tips in this article will help ensure that your university experience isn’t marred by any avoidable accidents or other types of ill-fortune. If nothing else, let your parents know that you’ve read this article and they’ll feel reassured that you know how to look after yourself!

Accommodation

Many of the safety considerations you’ll need to think about when you go to university are centred on your accommodation. Let’s start by looking at how you can ensure your accommodation is as safe as possible, so that you can relax and enjoy your new home.

Fire prevention

Image shows a bright red fire alarm.
If you’re renting somewhere, check when you’re looking
around whether the fire safety precautions are in order.

Fire drills will become a fact of life when you’re living in university accommodation, so try to remember that they’re there for your safety when you’re woken up at 6.30am and forced to go outside in your pyjamas. If you’re living in privately rented accommodation, the fire procedures are your own responsibility. Ensure that the smoke alarms work; when the battery is running low, the device should give out the occasional bleep to let you know it’s time to change it. Think about the quickest fire escape route from your room, and discuss a plan of action with your housemates, so that you’re prepared to act in the unlikely event of a fire.

Minimise the risk of fire by being sensible around your accommodation. Candles add atmosphere to a room and make it smell nice, but they’re also a fire hazard. Never leave candles burning unattended, and keep them away from things that could catch light, such as curtains being blown in the direction of your candle by the breeze from an open window. In the kitchen, never leave a pan on the hob unattended, and check regularly on meals in the oven if you’re using that. Keep the toaster on a low setting to avoid the risk of toast catching fire.

Theft prevention

Image shows a bike locked to a lampost by a relatively flimsy chain.
This kind of flimsy bike lock might prove insufficient;
they’re easily broken.

Securing your home and possessions from the risk of theft is another safety aspect to consider. Always shut and lock windows when you go out, and make sure your door is firmly locked when you’re out (and when you’re asleep), even in university halls of residence. If you’re renting private accommodation, make sure that the locks are adequate – Yale are among the best, and it’s good to have a slide-across bolt as well as the main lock for added protection.

Consider buying a computer lock to chain your computer to the desk, and mark any particularly important possessions (such as your laptop) with a UV pen giving your name and phone number; this is invisible except under UV light, so it won’t spoil the appearance. Keep valuables out of sight when you go out, and if you’re going to be out for a day or more, consider using time switches to activate lights and give the appearance that you’re at home.

Bikes are also prone to theft, and, being a method of transport favoured by students, you’re in a demographic group that’s particularly at risk of this crime. Buy a strong bike lock, and, as with other important possessions, mark your bike with a UV pen.

Take out insurance

It’s important to have a good contents insurance policy when you go to university, whether you’re in halls of residence or private accommodation. You may not be covered by your parents’ policy while you’re at university, so check the small print and take out your own insurance if need be.

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Health

When you’re studying for a degree, you need to be in good health to ensure you’re able to perform academically to the best of your abilities, so bear the following tips in mind.

Register with a local doctor and dentist

Image shows someone walking on crutches.
Accidents inevitably happen, so be prepared!

Even if you think you’re strong as an ox and won’t ever need to go to the doctor or dentist, it’s still important to register with them. Even those with a strong constitution can get struck down by the dreaded Freshers’ Flu, or can trip up and twist an ankle. You should also know where to go to find the university nurse for more minor ailments.

Ensure your vaccinations are up to date

Diseases can spread quickly through a student population, as people are living in close proximity with one another, so it’s important to check that your vaccinations are up to date before you head off to university. Mumps and Meningitis C are two particularly important ones, so make sure you have these if you haven’t already.

Buy a First Aid kit

Always have a First Aid kit to hand in your room, and know where it is. It should contain essentials such as plasters, antiseptic cream, painkillers and bandages.

Eat healthily

A healthy diet is vital for staying in good health, so try to avoid the usual student staples of kebab vans and Pot Noodles. It’s fine to eat unhealthy things like chocolate in moderation, provided you balance them with healthy foods, including plenty of fruit and vegetables. You might also consider taking a vitamin supplement, though these should not be viewed as substitutes for a healthy diet.

Personal safety and nights out

As a student, you’re going to be out and about a lot, at all times of the day and night. This means that personal safety should be a primary concern.

Avoid dodgy areas

Image shows a dimly lit back alley.
Avoid unsafe shortcuts.

If there are areas of your university city that you know are dangerous late at night (or even during the day), avoid them: it’s as simple as that. The city centre is unlikely to be an issue, but there may be certain streets with popular bars that may be prone to Friday or Saturday night brawls. Stick to well-lit, busy areas, and avoid dark, deserted alleyways like the plague, even if they’re a great shortcut. Carry a personal alarm that can be easily activated.

Stick together

Don’t go anywhere on your own on a night out – stick with a group of friends, or at the very least one other person. If you want to go home before the rest of your friends, don’t attempt to walk home on your own late at night. Keep some money separate for getting home, and hire a taxi from a reputable local taxi firm; have their number saved in your phone in preparation. If you get a bus home, sit at the front, near the driver. Some universities operate student minibuses to help you get back to your accommodation after a night out, so check whether yours operates such a service and save the number in your phone if they do.

Don’t leave your drink unattended

Image shows an unattended glass of coca-cola.
If you’re somewhere that’s known for drink spiking, don’t drink
anything you haven’t seen the bartender make yourself.

Too many students learn the hard way that you should never leave your drink unattended, as it makes you vulnerable to becoming a victim of drink spiking. Always keep your drink in sight, ideally in your hand, because within seconds of your back being turned, a predator could spike it with drugs. If you realise you haven’t been keeping an eye on it, it’s best to buy another one.

Make sure your phone is charged

Your mobile phone is a lifeline when you’re out and about, at any time of day or night, so make sure it’s always fully charged before you leave the house. If your phone is prone to running out of battery, consider purchasing a portable charger that will give your phone a boost, as this may come in extremely useful if you need to make an emergency call but your battery is about to run out.

Keep your phone and valuables hidden from view

Image shows a cheap-looking phone.
If you’re concerned about your phone being stolen, use a
cheaper phone.

When you’re out and about, you’re an obvious target for theft if you’ve got your phone, MP3 player or tablet out. Try to keep these valuables hidden from view in a secure interior pocket or bag, and avoid using them altogether when it’s dark. Use the vibrate mode rather than a ringtone to avoid drawing attention to your device. Having music playing through your headphones when you’re walking may make the walk seem more interesting, but it will also prevent you from hearing what’s going on around you – such as someone approaching you from behind – so it’s best avoided.

Be careful who you meet

Internet dating is a lot more common these days, but it’s also prone to exploitation by those with darker motives than finding love. If you’re giving it a try while you’re at university, be very careful when meeting someone for the first time. Arrange to meet during the day, in a busy public place, and let your friends know that you’re going (and who you’re meeting). Don’t give out your home or university address until you’re absolutely confident that the person is who they say they are (and that you’re happy for them to have your address).

Science labs

Image shows a young woman working in a university lab.
Science labs can be dangerous places.

University science labs are dangerous places, on a whole new level from your school chemistry classes, so you’ll need to take adequate safety precautions. Always wear goggles, and avoid wearing contact lenses; even when you’re wearing goggles, it’s still possible for fumes to get underneath them and cause lasting damage to your eyes. Wear sensible shoes (not sandals or heels), tie back long hair, and always follow your lecturer’s instructions when handling chemicals. Be aware of where the safety and first aid equipment is, and wash your hands before leaving. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t attempt to eat or inhale anything! Your university will have its own set of lab safety guidelines, so ensure you adhere to them at all times (not doing so isn’t just dangerous: it could cause you to lose marks off your university course).

Travel

If you’re heading overseas for part of your course, or just for a holiday or Jailbreak, there are a few extra safety tips to bear in mind in addition to the personal safety tips we outlined earlier (which constitute good practice wherever you are in the world). Before you go anywhere, check the Foreign Office travel advice and avoid known trouble spots. Always take out adequate travel insurance before you go.

Image shows part of an airport.
Travelling needn’t be dangerous if you take care.

Travelling alone can be an exhilarating experience, but it can also be dangerous. Stay in busy areas, never leave your luggage unattended, and never carry all your travel money in your purse or wallet – separate it into smaller amounts and hide it in different parts of your luggage or rucksack. Even if you’re going to wing it when it comes to accommodation, at least book the first night so that you have somewhere to go when you arrive in an unfamiliar city. Try to book a flight that arrives during the day, so that you have plenty of time to find your accommodation while it’s still light and busy. Take a map with you, but try to study it in advance rather than constantly getting it out and poring over it when you arrive; this is a signal to local thieves and other troublemakers that you’re a tourist and therefore an easy target. Try to walk confidently, with a sense of purpose, and they’re more likely to avoid you.

Before going to a foreign country, read up on its customs and laws, so that you don’t inadvertently fall foul of them or offend anyone. To be on the safe-side, it’s best to avoid hitch-hiking altogether, but if you do it, be sensible and don’t get into a vehicle unless you feel confident with the driver. It might be best to approach drivers at a petrol station rather than thumbing a lift, as this means you only have to approach the ones you like the look of (women may prefer to ask other women for a lift, for example).

“Health and safety” may be a bit of a tiresome buzzword in this day and age, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an important part of adapting to life at university. Follow the tips in this article, and you’ll stand a much better chance of staying happy and healthy throughout your time at university.

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Image credits: banner; fire alarm; bike lock; crutches; dark alley; drink; mobile phone; laboratory; airport.

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