Investigating Derelict Buildings: Is there a ghost of a chance of serious harm?

Unlike a lot of what has been written about in local media and TV related paranormal topics in the last few months, this post isn’t about ghosts harming individuals… in fact, its not really about ghosts at all. What this blog is about is my continuing exasperation at the lack of health and safety knowledge often exhibited by many individuals or teams as a whole when investigating derelict buildings.

In November 2012, paranormal investigator Sara Harris of North Carolina, US, died after inhaling rat droppings whilst on an investigation: a tragic loss and one that highlights that investigative fieldwork can be lethal, not just dangerous. What many investigators don’t realise is that many dangers await a person who treads in a derelict building, or even a disused area such as a bunker or cellar. To many, ‘ghost hunting’ is pure entertainment, and the prospect of real, physical danger from the environment and building around them doesn’t even register. The basic point is that just because you’re in a building looking for paranormal activity doesn’t mean that you’re at any less risk than a structural surveyor or construction worker moving around the building: in fact, due to investigators often navigating such sites without adequate lighting, that puts them in more danger.

Health and Safety is the prime concern

First of all, if you are attending an investigation as a team member, has your team put together a risk assessment of the site? If so, is the person who put together the assessment qualified or experienced enough to do so adequately? Is there an emergency procedure? What is the fire procedure? Who are the first aiders on site? These all still apply to guests on paid ‘ghost hunts’: make sure that your hosts have outlined all of the above, as your health (and in some extreme cases your life) may well depend on it. In the event of the worst happening, are you covered by insurance? Many insurance policies won’t cover work in derelict buildings – make sure your group or hosts’ insurance covers the event properly. Have a look at the following risk categories often associated with investigating derelict or unused buildings: are you fully aware of the risks to yourself and those around you?

Site Security

Site security is something many forget about in the ‘heat of the investigation’. Failure to properly secure the site could allow members of the public to enter a potentially dangerous environment, as well as posing further physical risk to the attending investigators.

Snag, Trip and Fall Hazards

Derelict buildings often have rough/uneven floors, or even flooring that in some cases is missing providing a tremendous risk of falling to injury or worse below. Walls may crumble to the touch, and ceilings may collapse, involving heavy and piercing materials. In the case of some buildings, such as shells of castles, falling masonry is also a major risk. Some buildings also have areas that are scaffolded: climbing on the scaffolding could produce major injuries in the form of slips and falls. Rough uneven walls, often with protruding nails or rusted metal features can also produce major health risks, with as well as providing cut and puncture risks also carry the risk of tetanus, 11% of cases in recent years which have proven fatal.

Human Induced Detritus

Detritus may be present inside the building in the form of waste (broken glass, sheared metal etc) or even narcotic paraphernalia such as needles.

Lone/Solo Investigations

Lone/solo investigations can be incredibly dangerous in derelict or unused buildings, as a single slip and fall could result in head strikes and unconsciousness that may go unnoticed for long periods of time.


Hi viz and good handwashing facilities are needed. Simple soil in, around and under buildings can be anything but clean. Industrial societies in the past allowed land to become contaminated in various ways over many years.

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Tony is the founder of Otherworld North East. He is an archaeologist by trade and classes himself as a sceptic.


Tony is the founder of Otherworld North East. He is an archaeologist by trade and classes himself as a sceptic.