Protecting Your Site from Construction Theft
June 17, 2019
Construction theft is a low-risk, high-reward crime costing our industry millions of dollars annually. When it comes to the Canadian construction industry, exact losses are difficult to nail down. One source estimates that every year, about $46 million dollars’ worth of equipment is stolen from Canadian construction sites. Ontario alone accounts for $15 to $20 million of those losses, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.
What does that mean for the average contractor? According to an independent survey of 100 construction companies, you’re likely to experience at least two thefts per year. The average loss for a licenced vehicle is $25,900, with the average value of stolen tools totalling $1,600. Estimates for stolen building materials are not provided, as they are difficult to track and make easy targets for thieves.
Unfortunately, according to the most recent annual Equipment Theft Report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, only 21% of stolen equipment is ever recovered.
It’s no surprise that construction sites are appealing to thieves. Depending on the phase of the development, there may not be a secure or private area to store valuable equipment. Construction site theft can be as simple as pocketing small tools and materials. Even heavy equipment is a target. Unlike road vehicles, which have titles and registrations, there is no national database for construction equipment. This makes it easy for thieves to sell stolen equipment – often to unsuspecting buyers.
The Importance of Site Security
In the United States, work sites with inadequate security account for about 70% of all targets of construction theft. It is crucial to protect your job site against theft and vandalism to prevent unnecessary costs and delays. The cost of replacing stolen equipment or cleaning up vandalism is just one aspect. You may incur additional costs, such as renting replacement equipment or being hit with higher insurance premiums.
Consider the time spent filing police reports and insurance claims following a theft. Project delays can result in substantial penalties or fines if deadlines are missed. The goals of any construction project are to complete the work on time and on budget – and theft can derail both your schedule and your financial planning.
In most cases, thieves are opportunistic criminals. They will target sites that are remote, poorly lit, or insufficiently secured. If you make it difficult for them to access your tools and equipment, they will be less likely to target your site.
How to Prevent Construction Site Theft
- Secure Your Site. Temporary fencing is just about the easiest and cheapest way to secure your site. Your site perimeter fence is also your last line of defence. If visual deterrents like security cameras and signage don’t scare off would-be thieves, your fence should be resistant to physical breaches. You can improve the security of your construction fence with auxiliary products, like security clamps and spike rails. Also make sure to have proper gates to serve as controlled access points.
- Make it Look Imposing. As mentioned, thieves tend to target sites with insufficient lighting. Not only do those sites appear to be unoccupied, but the darkness helps thieves to work unseen. Having a well-lit site with “No Trespassing” signs may be enough to discourage break-ins, especially when you have an intimidating barrier. Adding security cameras or an alarm system will also deter burglars, who are usually looking for an easy mark.
- Secure Your Equipment. Securing your equipment need not be complicated. Start by locking up tools and materials in sheds or trailers. Use tamper-resistant locks and heavy gauge chains that can stand up to bolt cutters. Remove batteries or wheels to prevent thieves from rolling away with equipment, and make use of cab locks and devices designed to immobilize controls. Do whatever you can to make it difficult to move the equipment, and you will reduce your risk of theft.
- Hide Your Equipment. This may sound silly, but anecdotal evidence suggests that thieves are unlikely to break into a site if they can’t readily see anything valuable to steal. That is based on sound logic: you probably wouldn’t break into a site unless you were sure the potential rewards outweighed the risk of getting caught. If possible, store equipment, tools and materials away from the public eye. Locked sheds or trailers are ideal, but even using privacy screen around your perimeter is a great start. Privacy screen makes it difficult for a potential burglar to see into your site, thereby protecting your “loot”.
- Inventory Your Equipment. Maintain a log of all materials, tools, and equipment, and run through it at the end of each day to ensure everything is accounted for. Your records should include details like year, manufacturer, model, and any serial numbers or VINs. If possible, keep photos of the equipment. You can go so far as to engrave or paint your own identification numbers on your equipment – you’ll want anything that can help identify it if it goes missing.
- Have a Theft Prevention Policy. Having a clear and well-documented policy can show employees and subcontractors that you take a zero tolerance approach to theft. Make sure every person on site is aware of the rules – and most importantly, the consequences – for stealing tools and materials. Your policy should also address “grey areas”, such as borrowing tools, taking surplus materials for personal use, and getting permission to sell scrap materials.
The key to preventing construction site theft is to make it as difficult as possible for would-be criminals. If you employ the right visual and physical deterrents, opportunistic criminals will likely move on to the next site. These six simple steps are a great start, and will reduce your risk of becoming a target for break-ins and burglary.