In this post I will be discussing some of the hazards that can be encountered when carrying out void property inspections in social housing and some interesting examples that I have had personal experience with. This is not an exhaustive list or how-to guide, it’s more of a brief summary of the more rare examples that can be seen.
When carrying out void property inspections there can be a slew of hazards that may be present. An inspector will often carry out dynamic risk assessments on site as conditions become apparent. The perceived risk will be adjusted dependant on the known conditions, for example if it’s an abandoned property the likelihood of there being significant hazards will increase.
Being able to recognise hazards will inform the order in which work is carried out and the restrictions that might be placed on who can access to the property. When encountering any significant hazard the important thing is to deal with it appropriately before proceeding or allowing anyone else to come into contact with it.
Empty pet cages should ring alarm bells. Whilst inspecting a property I found an empty cage which could have housed a variety animals. What peaked my interest was that there was a container on the kitchen counter with the labelling suggesting that grasshoppers were being used as food. At the time I had no idea what animal ate grasshoppers, I now know tarantulas eat all kinds of insects including grasshoppers.
I never saw the tarantula myself as the property was packed with items and evidence of drug use so the first port of call was to get the property safely cleared. Shortly after the cleaning contractor arriving on site they sent us the below picture. They immediately contacted the Scottish SPCA who came out and removed the spider.
There is the possibility of a variety of electrical dangers, some less apparent than others. This could range from poorly installed tenant alterations to dangerous bypassed electrical meters. As taking meter reads will usually form part of any void property inspection it is important to be able to recognise some of the common electrical hazards. More can be found on this topic in a previous post I have written here.
Bypassed meters can be blatantly obvious in some cases as seen in the picture below but can also be almost indistinguishable in other cases. Additional wires that should not be there or seals that have been removed should be a signal to suggest that something is not right.
Evidence of Drug Use
Often in abandoned properties it can be very difficult to carry out a meaningful inspection as the property will be packed with contents. Being vigilant is very important in these situations. Any sign of drug paraphernalia should warrant a specialist clearance to make safe the property. Even after a specialist clearance caution must be taken. Needles can be hidden down toilets, behind radiators or anywhere hidden out of sight.
In the below example our specialist contractor removed over 200 needles from the property. Communication is the key here, extreme caution must be exercised by all contractors when completing work even after a needle sweep.
The major blood-borne pathogens of concern associated with needlestick injury are HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. It can take months to get the results back after an injury which can be quite a stressful experience for those concerned. This is all the more reason to make sure we all do our upmost to remove these hazards safely when identified.
We could play a game of spot the hazard in the picture below as there are many. Sometimes the amount of contents in a property or leading up to a property will prevent an inspection from being possible. In these cases these hazards will need to be removed before even starting the process. A careful and methodical removal of the contents is important here as there could be various hazards not visible at first due to the overgrowth of the garden.
There are many other significant hazards that can be encountered from asbestos right through to gas leaks. The first step to rectify any hazard is awareness and identification and then it is a case of action and remedy. Taking the hazard out of the equation so that the inspection or works can proceed is the main thing. Communication with contractors and housing staff is paramount to ensure safety and awareness of the risks involved.
How to conduct a risk assessment and full void property inspection is beyond the scope of this post but hopefully this has given an insight into some of the dangers that are out there.