Urbex 101: Safety Tips

Posted by sickbritain On March - 10 - 2009

So you’re going out to do a site visit or out for a whole day’s exploring, what should you consider in terms of safety? It’s easy to be complacent and let derelict buildings become normal, remember that Urban Exploration can be dangerous and take precautions.

It’s not always realistic to do all of these on every explore but my top 10 tips are:

  1. Wear Gloves
    You never know what you’re going to find on a site visit, especially in the hospitals and asylums, and whatever location you’re in you definitely want to avoid cuts and scrapes which could bring the risk of tetanus or other diseases.
  2. Carry a Torch
    Light can be a problem, I personally roll with a Maglite and a head torch to make sure I can get light even when I need both hands free and as a bonus a good-sized Maglite doubles as a weapon should you encounter any dangerous animals or other unexpected miscreants.
  3. Wear a Dust Mask
    It’s not the most comfortable thing and they do get hot but wearing a dust mask will make you safer in the short term and healthier in the long term. Many abandon buildings have damp, murky air which can cause nausea and may carry diseases but the biggest worry is asbestos. Asbestos is most dangerous as a fine dust and you really need a P3 certified mask to make sure you’re filtering out asbestos and any other airborne particulates. Disposable masks are fine and can be picked up for £3-5, I’m not sure about their lifespan but they’re probably good for a coupe of visits.
  4. Don’t Explore Alone
    It’s much safer to explore an unknown environment in pairs or in a group, that way you always know that someone’s got your back and (God forbid) if anything does happen you know you’ve got a friend to rely on to get you out or call for help (friends also help with map reading). It’s always useful to tell people where you’re going and what time you expect to return – especially if you do end up going alone but if you can, find an experienced urbexer to go out with you for the first few times until you feel confident on your own.
  5. Wear Heavy Clothing
    As I mentioned before, we need to avoid cuts and scrapes so shorts are a bad idea, denim tends to be quite hardy so jeans are a good choice. I also tend to use wellington boots as the rubber will protect your feet and it gives you the confidence to step through puddles and other unknown substances, you can’t beat a decent pair of wellies.
  6. Tread Carefully
    I’ve been in quite a few places where the floorboards are rotten and it’s easy to fall through, there’s not a great deal you can do about this except for being careful – don’t just go barreling into a room without thinking about your own safety. Light helps to see what’s going on and if you’ve got something long with you (e.g. a tripod or trekking pole) you can probe the floor in front of you for stability.
  7. Think About Using a Safety Helmet
    I must admit, it’s not something I’ve done myself but I have been to places where I thought it’d be handy and I’ve deliberately not gone into places that I think would be too dangerous without one. Like I said – it’s not an essential if you’re careful but if you need one, get one.
  8. Be Like The Ninja
    You should approach all site visits with stealth in mind, this will help not only avoid detection but will also keep you safe – always keep contact to a minimum. Don’t touch things unnecessarily, especially structural components, support pillars or anything that might be propping up the roof and certainly don’t lean or put weight on anything unless you’re sure it’s structurally sound. Whatever you do, don’t take anything away with you – you have no idea what has been living on/in it and you could end up taking some nasty surprise home with you.
  9. Avoid Climbing
    Some of the least structurally sound components of a derelict or abandoned building are staircases, ladders and the roof. Don’t climb unless you’re 100% sure it’s safe and you have real rock climbing skills and equipment (a fake plastic rock-face in a youth centre doesn’t count).
  10. If You’re Not Sure – TURN BACK
    This sounds obvious but it’s easy to get carried away, especially if you’ve made a long journey to get to a site. If you get the feeling that you shouldn’t be doing something - don’t do it! Evolution has handed us a brilliant instinct but it’s something we can choose to ignore and that’s often at out peril, don’t do anything you think could get you injured or could risk your health – it’s not worth it.

I hope those tips help, remember as always that I’m not condoning any unsafe, illegal or immoral activities and my advice is just that – advice. I offer no guarantees that my advice is even worth following and anyone that listens to a single word I have to say does so at their own risk – in short, I’ve spent many decades of my life avoiding responsibility so I’m not about to take any now!


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One Response to “Urbex 101: Safety Tips”

  1. M says:

    We do NOT recommend you go into abandoned buildings yourself.

    There are a multitude of dangers inside abandoned buildings including many that you would never even know about or consider until it’s too late. If you absolutely must explore then here are some safety essentials:

    Never ever EVER EVER go into abandoned and dangerous places on your own, always go in a group of at least 2. However it’s also advisable to keep it to a max of 4 people for other reasons.

    Make sure someone outside of the exploration group knows where you are.

    ALWAYS KNOW WHERE YOUR EXIT POINTS ARE! You never know when you may need to get out quickly.

    Be aware of your surroundings. Are the floors solid, is the ceiling safe? Can you re-open doors if they close behind you? Are dangling wires live?

    Watch where you put your hands, many abandoned buildings have used needles in unusual places as well as a variety of unknown chemicals and who knows what!

    And some equipment essentials:

    A good powerful torch + spare set of batteries AND a backup torch. Abandoned buildings usually have no electrity and are often boarded up, you need good sources of light.

    A fully charged mobile phone.

    Suitable clothing is vital otherwise you will be very uncomfortable and could hurt yourself. Warm clothing and solid boots are the priority, preferably ones with ankle support and thick soles.

    A sturdy comfortable and preferably waterproof rucksack to keep other equipement in such as camera, spare batteries, food/drink etc.

    A pair of thick leather gloves can be useful. In some places chemicals, sharp glass and used needles can be a problem.

    Most important of all, Use your head at all times.
    The Law
    This is a guide to try and answer some of the common questions about accessing abandoned and derelict buildings. lifted from derelictplaces

    # Home
    # Squatting: a basic Guide
    # Photography: Your Rights

    Abandoned or derelict buildings almost always have some kind of access point that does not involve having to force your way in. It may be a broken window, an open door or something similar. It may involve some element of climbing / clambering and often isn’t particularly obvious. A good walk of the perimeter of the building keeping an eagle eye out will reveal a way in more often than not.

    If you cannot find a way in that does not involve breaking something, then the building is not accessible.

    There are two main reasons for this, one is that breaking things contributes to the decay of the place, it’s no better than the vandalism that we so often see in these places and only encourages others to do the same. As explorers we use the maxim ‘Take only photos, leave only footprints’. The other is the position of the law when it comes to such things.

    There are a number of elements of the law relating to exploring abandoned and derelict buildings.

    Trespass:

    Exploring abandoned and derelict buildings without permission of the land owner constitutes an act of trespass and this is the most important law to consider when visiting abandoned and derelict buildings.

    Any person can enter a place if the landowners permit it. However, this does not necessarily make a permanent right of access, and unless they have dedicated a bit of land to be permanently open it is within the power of the landowner or their agent/representative to ask any person to leave, assuming that person does not have some other lawful reason to be there.

    The landowner or their agent/representative does not have to give a reason. If the person does not go immediately, by the shortest practical route, then they are trespassing. Despite the well known sign ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’, trespass is not a criminal offence and trespassers cannot usually be prosecuted. They can, however, be sued in a civil court. To be successful in court the landowner must prove a significant financial loss as a result of the trespass and thus it’s extremely unlikely that this would ever happen.

    Bottom line is if you are asked to leave then do so, via the easiest route.

    There are things that can turn trespass into a criminal activity, namely causing criminal damage, taking items away from a site, and threatening behaviour towards staff/security (this can be verbal as well as physical).

    Criminal Damage:

    Taken from the CPS Website:
    Quote:

    Meaning of ‘damage’

    Damage is not defined by the Act. The courts have construed the term liberally. Damage is not limited to permanent damage, so smearing mud on the walls of a police cell may be criminal damage. What constitutes damage is a matter of fact and degree and it is for the court, using its common sense, to decide whether what occurred is damage .

    The damage need not be visible or tangible if it affects the value or performance of the property.

    Possessing anything with intent to destroy or damage property

    A charge under Section 3 of the Act will often be appropriate where the evidence falls short of an attempt to destroy or damage provided the necessary intent can be established; for example, when a defendant is stopped with petrol and matches before he or she has had a change to set fire to anything.

    Section 3(a) is confined to damaging property belonging to another. Section 3(b), which is the offence in aggravated form, relates to the defendant’s own property or the property of the user.

    This means that if you cause damage, accidentally or otherwise you could potentially be charged with criminal damage, you could also be prosecuted if you are caught in the act of trespass with tools on you that could be used to cause damage

    Taking items away:

    Taken from the Crown Prosecution Service website:
    Quote:

    Burglary, contrary to section 9 Theft Act 1968
    (Archbold 21-108)

    Section 9 of the 1968 Act creates two offences: *Entry as a trespasser in any building or part of building with the intention of stealing, inflicting GBH or unlawful damage therein (section 9(1)(a) of the 1968 Act (Archbold 21-109)) *Having entered as a trespasser any building or part of a building stealing, attempting to steal or inflicting or attempting to inflict GBH on any person therein (section 9(1)(b) of the 1968 Act (Archbold 21-110))

    Attempts

    The appropriation may be complete even if the criminal’s purpose is not fulfilled e.g. thief puts shopping into his bag dishonestly intending not to pay, but is caught before leaving the shop. Charge theft, not attempt theft.

    The Prosecution does not have to prove that there is in existence property capable of being stolen. For example: The would-be pickpocket who put a hand into someone else’s empty pocket searching for something to steal will be guilty of attempted an attempt theft. In this example, the charge should be drafted as an attempt to steal property belonging to the victim.

    If you cannot charge attempt because there is no act which is more than merely preparatory, consider section 25 Theft Act – going equipped to steal, cheat or burgle (Archbold, 21-324).

    The implication of this is that it’s always best to make sure the building you want to enter is definitely abandoned. If it is still being used for storage, no matter how mundane the contents, then if you are caught you could potentially be charged with attempted burglary. Even if the building is abandoned and you are caught removing items from it you could potentially be charged with theft.

    Threatening behaviour:
    Taken from the Crown Prosecution Service website:

    Quote:

    Affray

    (Archbold 2004 29-18 to 29-24)

    An offence under section 3 is triable either way. The maximum penalty on conviction on indictment is three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of unlimited amount. On summary conviction the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding level 5.

    Under section 3 of the Act, it must be proved that a person has used or threatened:
    * unlawful violence * towards another * and his conduct is such as would cause * a person of reasonable firmness * present at the scene * to fear for his personal safety.

    The seriousness of the offence lies in the effect that the behaviour of the accused has on members of the public who may have been put in fear. There must be some conduct, beyond the use of words, which is threatening and directed towards a person or persons. Mere words are not enough. Violent conduct towards property alone is not sufficient for the purposes of an offence under section 3. For a definition of ‘violence’ in affray – section 8 of the Act (Archbold 2004 29-38).

    The offence may be committed in a public or private place.

    The notional bystander test is explained in the case of (R v Sanchez [1996] Crim. L.R. 572CA), and asserts that the hypothetical bystander, rather than the victim, must be put in fear for his or her personal safety. Apart from the hypothetical bystander, there must be present a “victim” against whom the violence is to be directed (I & Others v DPP (2002) 1 AC 285 HL).

    The level of conduct appropriate for charges under Section 3 will often fall comfortably within the ambit of that anticipated within S4 POA. Affray should be considered in circumstances of serious and indiscriminate violence. Examples of the type of conduct appropriate for a Section 3 offence include: * A fight between two or more people in a place where members of the general public are present (for example in a public house, discotheque, restaurant or street) with a level of violence such as would put them in substantial fear (as opposed to passing concern) for their safety (even though the fighting is not directed towards them); * Indiscriminate throwing of objects directed towards a group of people in circumstances where serious injury is or is likely to be caused; * The wielding of a weapon of a type or in a manner likely to cause people substantial fear for their safety or a person armed with a weapon who, when approached by police officers, brandishes the weapon and threatens to use it against them; * Incidents within a dwelling should not be charged as affray merely because a lesser public order charge is not available. Offences of assault are likely to be more appropriate. Affray should be considered in circumstances analogous to those listed above where serious violence is used or threatened, and with due regard to the principles set out in R v Sanchez.

    The accused must have intended to use or threaten violence; or have been aware that his conduct may be violent or may threaten violence.

    The crown court is likely to be the more appropriate venue if a charge of affray is preferred.

    Basically if you get caught, play nice. Security guards aren’t known for their politeness, but don’t antagonise them or give them reason to consider your behaviour to be threatening (this includes wielding maglites or throwing stones). They are just doing their job after all.

    In simple terms you can avoid problems by following a few simple steps:

    1. Use only existing entry points to get into a property

    2. Don’t cause damage or take items away from a property
    3. If caught leave when requested and be nice to the person asking you to leave
    4. Don’t take anything with you that could be construed as a ‘tool’ for the purposes or breaking and entering or causing criminal damage.

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If youre into Urbex or youre trying to find out what its all about you may find yourself needing some help finding out about the art of Urban Exploration.  Here at Sick Britain Im planning to put up original content like my What is Urbex? and Urbex Safety articles as well as posting links to other community sites such as 28 Days Later or Derelicte.

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