Monday, 10 March 2014

Urban Exploration, Legalities, Hazards, and Risks



I noticed a post in a g+community from an urbexer who was lamenting that they had discovered after visiting many times that the site was full of asbestos and they were observing that there were no warning signs.



I thought I'd put a few words together about Urbex (Urban Exploration) in general and specifically address a few things. Let me start with a disclaimer - this is not legal or medical advice - its just common sense (which means I shouldn't have to write it down right?). You should seek competent advice that applies to you in whatever location you want to Urbex.

Legalities

It is illegal to enter a property that you are not authorised to be in. In Victoria the police do have the power to evict you and to order you to keep away. You can be charged with trespass as a criminal act without having physically broken in or done any damage, simply being present within the property is enough. It should be noted that the police are allowed to take you into custody for your own protection without charging you and this includes confiscating your camera and gear. It would take you a while to get it back. It could be retained as evidence if you are charged and you may never get it back.

Civilly you can be sued for entering a property, but IMHO feel it's unlikely unless the entity (person, government, corporate) can prove that you somehow damaged them. This damage could be physical vandalism but it could also be more subtle. As an example, if a company feels that you've damaged their brand by including their logo within an urbex photograph then they could take you to court. My personal feeling is that they would be unlikely as its a bit of a no win situation as you're not likely to have much in the way of assets for them to take.

I do strongly suggest that you obtain your own legal advice if you are thinking of undertaking an urbex. I follow the practice of enter easy through existing openings, take only photos, leave only footprints.


Hazards

Abandoned buildings have oodles of hazards ranging from killers like blue fluffy asbestos, to manageable like asbestos cement sheet walls, to unsafe structures, up pointing sharps, other people within the structure. You cannot expect to be warned about any of these things. The owners probably don't want you there and are not obligated to protect you. That's up to you. I know what the various forms of asbestos look like. I know that disturbing it means asbestosis and a likely painful death (seriously!).

Other hazards such as upturned rusty nails could lead you to a nasty case of tetanus so keep your shots current. Other sharps such as a druggie's syringe could give you Hepatitis C or worse AIDS.

Unsafe structures damaged by the ingress of water, rot or vandals could collapse at any time.

Chemical and material hazards abound in industrial sites, I know of one on the western side of the city that had vats still full of acids and alkalines. Both do nasty things to humans. Many are not so obvious, old electrical equipment can leak toxic oils. Industrial equipment in a chemical plant could be contaminated with nasties like lead, poisons or biologics. The best bet is to simply touch nothing and be careful how you treat your clothes when you get home. Right into the wash. At some places you might wipe down your boots and bag your clothes and bin them afterwards.

Mould can be an interesting one particularly since the spores of some mould like warm humid places (like lungs).

Criminals can be a major hazard. Some abandoned places might house a pop up meth lab for example.

These all sound pretty bad, but remember people worked and or lived in these abandoned places so how bad could they be really?


Risks

A risk is defined as the likelihood of a hazard causing an impact to you and what the likely consequences would be. You need to become an intrinsic risk management expert to urbex. Common sense will go a long way.

The right clothes good thick sold ankle supporting leather boots, safety boots with steel caps if you think you need them and long pants and long sleeves would be the basics.

If you feel the need for a face mask then don't depend on one of those bits of cloth shit from the chemist or hardware store. Get a proper one from an industrial supply that sells into the demolition and building industries.

If you're protecting yourself from asbestos then you need a full body suit and full face mask with canned air (it is the only way) and a deluge shower to wash it off before you take off the suit. Anything less and you're kidding yourself. You may not suck down the fibre through that cloth mask but when you get home you spread the shit throughout your house when you take off the clothes you were wearing exposing the rest of your family. But really if you need full containment then the site just isn't worth it.

Update

23/03/15 Yesterday a young man was killed exploring a drain in Brisbane so be careful out there.