It has been suggested by one of the Forum members that I write an article on the dangers of the industrial environment to the budding photographer. Many of you have never been exposed to the industrial environment and especially one which is in decay and this poses a danger.
Many of you have seen the stark and surrealistic images taken in derelict building, factories and other industrial landscapes and considered these places as a source of inspiration. Whilst these images can really set the creative mind afire, the dangers posed by these sites to the photographer need to assessed before entry. I’m trying to make people aware of the risks and to take necessary precautions. In some instances the risks are just too great and I will explain why under each danger topic.
When you go anywhere outside of your normal day to day, get in the habit of doing a risk assessment before you enter the unknown. I don’t mean you have to have formal written document, just stop and think about what you could come across first. Look for signs of what the site used to do and this will give you a clue to the hazards you may face and yes there will be hazards, I can guarantee this. Some of the hazards you need to think about are:
Chemicals previously used on site – they could be toxic and Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) or they can have long term effects such as causing birth defects, weakening the bodies systems or causing cancers. Steel drums rust and spill contents wherever they stand. Chemicals can also be in powdered forms which can be blown about the site. Be cautious in what you pick up or handle.
Asbestos – I give this its own special category as this deadly product is everywhere in the Australian landscape. Asbestos can be found in everything from roof and wall sheeting (fibro) to insulation materials in furnaces and electrical equipment The Worksafe Standards permit 1 fibre for every 2 litres of air space as being acceptable in the air you breathe, but you still need to understand that it only takes 1 fibre to get stuck in your lungs to be susceptible to Asbestosis and Mesothelioma 10 or more years later. Whilst you can easily see asbestos materials, it’s the floating fibres which pose the danger. These fibres are between 0.3 to 0.5 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) so small that you cannot see them except maybe just as a dust mote in strong sunlight. Once disturbed, asbestos fibres can float in still air for hours. At this size the fibre is too large to be expelled from the body by normal breathing and too small to be expelled by coughing.
Unstable Structures – brick walls where timber frames have rotted away can collapse, old machinery mounted on frames that have rusted or stairways rotten or rusted. Don’t trust your life to any structure – stay on the ground, don’t climb ladders or stairways.
Live Electrical – Just because the site is derelict doesn’t mean the power isn’t connected somewhere and with factories the voltages can be a lot higher than just 240 volts. Also remember that a combination of electricity and old chemicals can equal explosions or chemical fires. Don’t touch what you don’t understand.
Other Services – The same as electricity, piped gas services and water may still be connected and live.
Confined Spaces – These are places where the air you breathe can be or is contaminated. Most of the killer gases that can be found in confined spaces are odourless and will overcome you in seconds with death following a few seconds later. Do NOT enter pits or tunnels or other confined spaces unless you have gas detection devices as a minimum. If you don’t understand then don’t go in.
Slips trips and falls – Derelict sites are not renown for their cleaned tidy floors. It is normal for debris to be scattered everywhere. Remember there may be trenches, pits and other holes in the ground which have been covered by debris. Watch your footing.
Who You Going to Call – If something goes wrong, what are you going to do? Do you have to rely on yourself? do you have an exit strategy? Ensure your mobile is charged and in service, alternatively let someone else know where you are and stick to what you told them.
I’m not saying don’t go exploring and getting that award winning image but be cautious, understand the environment your in, be informed and aware of the dangers it poses. When I was young and indestructible SCUBA diving and underwater photography was my outlet. In those 20 years I’ve had many of close calls and I’ve hauled body of one of the dive group from the sea – he didn’t make it – I hope you don’t have to do the same. Stay safe
This is a pretty quick overview and I could go on for days in detail - I'd like to see others advice too