There’s nothing new about people’s fascination with exploring abandoned and derelict buildings, but the growing trend in posting videos of their exploits online is a problem. The videos encourage others, many of them young people, to set their own challenges of discovering and exploring. Sadly, they often explore dangerous buildings, putting themselves at risk and sometimes even losing their lives.
Too many fatal accidents happen inside abandoned and derelict buildings. Typically, these buildings are most definitely not secured, even when reported as being unsafe by locals for years. But why is nothing done about it? So many factors can contribute to an abandoned building being unsafe, such as having an unstable roof, containing asbestos – which can lead to the deadly cancer mesothelioma – or leftover drug paraphernalia and needles from squatters.
Unstable roofs are common in older buildings as they were never designed for people to walk on and could be left decaying for years. Squatters like to live in abandoned buildings and are known for leaving a lot of their waste behind. This is a big health hazard for anyone else who would want to enter, such as urban explorers or curious children.
The Urban Explorer
It may be surprising to some that there is a community who actively look for abandoned places to explore. They are called urban explorers. This community has grown on the Internet and is popular amongst teenagers, giving them high levels of stimulation and excitement through an adrenaline rush.
Photographers and art students, young and old, have risked their lives entering old factories, schools and hospitals in the hopes of seeing architectural gems before they’re gone. Many popular YouTubers, such as Ally Law, who has 3 million followers on social media, are earning good money from the videos they post online. Ally can earn thousands of pounds per video that show off his high jinks and daredevil climbs, as well as for exploring abandoned buildings. These videos have a strong influence, encouraging others to do the same; especially during lockdown. The videos make it trendy to explore these places; although many people see only the fun element and are unaware of the potential risks that await them.
Since 2017, there have been a number of tragic incidents, including teenager Thomas Rhodes who fell to his death in an abandoned hotel in Sheffield. The hotel had become a haven for urban explorers. On another occasion, 44-year-old Memphis newspaper executive, Eric Janssen, fell to his death while taking pictures from the top floor of the London House Hotel in Chicago. One of his friends explained that for explorers who like photography, the payoff can be stark. Going out of their way to capture ‘captivating and even haunting images of bold architectural designs twisted by time and exposure to the elements. Risking injury or arrest to capture such images can offer an emotional rush.’ Many other deaths have also been recorded. The consequences of urban exploring can, as is evident, be fatal, most commonly falling while climbing buildings.
There have also been fatalities of many younger children who were simply playing on rooftops, not knowing the risks. A 12-year-old boy, Leon Hoyle, fell to his death through an unstable roof in a Lancaster industrial estate. Fourteen-year-old Myles Johnstone died after falling through a roof in Wyther Lane Industrial Estate in Kirkstall, West Yorkshire. Both were simply playing with friends on the roofs of these buildings, unaware of the dangers.
Frustrated locals have reported many derelict buildings where these accidents happen. They can see the buildings are dangerous, but nothing is done about it, even when reported to authorities. Another 12-year-old boy, Adam Johnson, fell to his death after climbing on the roof of the derelict factory, Aida Bliss, in Derby. Many people described it as an ‘accident waiting to happen’. Locals had reported this building to authorities many times before the accident. They urged them to secure it as teenagers often climbed it. Nothing was done, and the result was Adam’s untimely death.
The Mesothelioma Centre has stated that asbestos is the number one danger for urban explorers. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs. It is caused by asbestos. Awareness of the harmful effects of asbestos has shrunk over the years mainly because fewer buildings contain it. Yet, in the UK alone, the Health and Safety Executive puts the number of asbestos-related deaths at around 5,000 per year. Teenagers and children who explore abandoned buildings may not see asbestos as a direct threat or even know what it is. However, if exposed to asbestos, they may become victim to its devastating effects later on in life.
It’s vital that these abandoned and derelict buildings are secured in order to prevent asbestos exposure, especially to children.
Abandoned and derelict buildings clearly present multiple risks to health and life, evident by the fatalities that continue to happen, especially amongst teenagers and children. The urban explorers who encourage exploration have created a trend for young people to visit these places. This has given rise to more chances for serious injuries or fatal accidents to occur. Many abandoned and derelict buildings are unsafe and unstable. The only way to avoid further deaths is for councils and property owners to actively take responsibility. They should listen to the public to ensure these potential death traps are properly secured.
There is an obvious cost to providing security for any building, but the legal and emotional upshot for not doing so, especially when a death is involved, will be far greater. Sadly, many property owners are unaware of the legal responsibility forced on them to ensure the health and safety of anyone who enters, regardless of their purpose or agenda.
Security may include steel screens, intruder alarms, video verified alarms, CCTV cameras and towers or the physical presence of security guards. All of these precautions will help ensure abandoned buildings remain secure and safe, preventing unauthorised entry and the possibility of tragic accidents.