The risks involved in construction are numerous and include a wide variety, from the safety of crews and surrounding structures or pedestrians, to materials acquisition challenges and labor availability. While the day-to-day challenges are many, one lesser known but highly prevalent problem for contractors is the theft of equipment and materials. Exact statistics are difficult to pinpoint, as not all losses are tracked and reported, but it’s estimated that equipment and material theft costs contractors in the United States more than $1 billion each year. Theft has far reaching consequences besides simply the dollar value in the stolen equipment and materials.
Theft can result in:
- Lost time due to productivity losses while replacements are found.
- Added labor costs for replacing materials, contacting insurance companies and completing claims.
- The need for tracking lost items and adding replacement items into inventory and rental logs.
- Unsafe conditions left by vandalism (exposed energized wires, i.e.)
The targeted jobsite may also experience damage to structures, sites, temporary protection, or other materials that are left behind. The inconveniences and challenges are many, and the ramifications of the issue aren’t important only for contractors, but also for the public that must ultimately foot the bill to cover the higher cost of construction that results.
Theft Prevention on Construction Sites
There are efforts underway within the industry to minimize the occurrence of theft, primarily through education and reward programs for whistle blowers. The Associated General Contractors of America has a recent podcast episode on the topic of prevention. Many items are regularly stolen from jobsites. These include:
- Small power tools
- Stored fuel
- Earthwork equipment
- Materials like lumber and copper
- Equipment batteries
There is a myriad of ways to protect these items, depending on the specifics of the jobsite. The first step is to have an accurate inventory of all items onsite, either on a spreadsheet or with a software system like ToolWatch. In addition to this list, the single largest factor in preventing theft is to make the ability to steal things difficult. The longer it takes to snatch items, the higher likelihood that the thieves are caught and the bigger the theft deterrent will be.
Perlo is also an avid supporter of the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program of the Pacific Northwest (CICP). This Oregon-based nonprofit organization is focused on the prevention and reduction of theft and vandalism on commercial construction sites across the Pacific Northwest through active participation in a variety of sectors such as building trade associations, contractors, law enforcement agencies, and more. Members of this program have access to site signage, site security walkthroughs, alert systems, education and training, and a variety of other benefits that help keep jobsites safe and secure.
Todd Duwe, Perlo’s Vice President of Business Development and a Board of Directors member for CICP, remarks, “CICP is a fantastic resource to utilize. From jobsite signage to safety consultations to a unique partnership with local law enforcement, this organization provides the necessary resources for theft prevention in our industry.”
Theft Prevention Tips
In general, it’s important to find ways to minimize the view of valuables, and secondarily, to secure them with fencing, locks, or otherwise blocking access to items that can’t be hidden. Some general tips to prevent jobsite theft include:
Store tools, equipment and materials indoors as often as possible.
Theft deterrence is best achieved by preventing visibility of valuables, as well as increasing the difficulty required to access them. When possible, indoor storage is the most secure option.
Erect and maintain site fencing at the perimeter, with secure locks at all entrances.
Site fencing must be secure and contiguous, without any gaps between or underneath panels, and should be inspected regularly for tampered connection fittings or cut wires. Additional fencing may be necessary for materials storage, as well. Padlocks should never be left unlocked. A known strategy of thieves is to replace an unlocked padlock with one of their own in the hopes that it will go unnoticed. The more layers a thief must pass through, the less likely they will be to attempt to steal the materials.
Park heavy equipment at all entry and exit gates to prevent thieves from entering with vehicles.
Limiting the ability for vehicles to access a site is also a factor in reducing how much can be stolen. Fencing may not be enough of a deterrent to keep someone from ramming through for access. Parking large equipment behind the gates may still allow an individual to pass through, but not their transportation. In addition to blocking access points, it’s important to disable the equipment being used by removing batteries, pulling a fuse to prevent operation or using technology to prevent its operation.
Install security cameras with ongoing monitoring by a reputable security contractor.
Security systems should include cameras on entrances/exits, construction offices, and near stored vehicles and materials. The security company should be informed of work hours vs. non-working hours, as well as a chain of individuals that can be reached in the event of trespass. One critical component of a good security system is to inform the security company when the layout of the site has changed. This information is relayed to first responders in the event of a break-in so that those first onsite have a good idea of where to look for the offenders.
Install motion sensor lights.
Lighting in general can be a deterrent to thieves, as visibility is not their friend. Motion sensor lights have been proving effective in deterring trespassers, as well. When it’s not reasonable to light up an entire site, motion sensor lights can be a great alternative, drawing attention to any activities taking place during dark hours.
Secure all tools in locked containers, as hidden from public view as possible.
Out of sight is out of mind. As often as possible, items should be stored out of sight. Storage containers, temporary offices and tool storage boxes such as Jobox or KNAAK can be valuable in making access to tools and materials difficult. Adding layers of fencing or blocking access to the storage containers can increase the security of them. Deterring theft is about making it difficult for a thief to access, so the more layers added on for security, the better.
Publicly post working hours for awareness.
Particularly in populated areas, posting jobsite hours can help casual observers know when workers should or should not be onsite. Thieves have been known to wear hard hats and safety vests in an attempt to ‘blend in’ with a regular construction crew, such that passersby may not be aware they shouldn’t be onsite.
Hire private security firms to complete drive-bys at regular but unpredictable intervals.
In addition to cameras and virtual security monitoring, some sites may be well-served by security companies with security guards that drive by regularly to look for unusual activity. It’s also possible to hire full time security to station onsite when crews aren’t working. While this might be a more costly option, it may pay for itself in terms of savings achieved if theft is prevented.
An Eye for Theft
Get to know your neighbors. A polite introduction and a little goodwill can go a long way in encouraging them to look out on your behalf.
In addition to the above listed measures, it’s critical that site supervisors and crew members walk the site daily to look at many factors, including:
- Potential access points
- Blown-down or removed fencing
- Removal of site barriers or visual deterrents
- Power sources and functionality of camera systems and lighting
- Locations to park heavy equipment to block access
At the close of working hours, one individual should be responsible for checking all locks, ensuring that equipment is secure and security elements are in place as planned. With a careful eye for details, site crews can help prevent theft.
Asset tracking is another component of reducing theft and/or recovering equipment if it is stolen. An increase in GPS technologies have made it possible to add ID tags with tracking capabilities. Items like Samsara’s dash cameras can track vehicles in real time. Smaller trackers like Apple’s AirTag can be an option, as well. Additionally, there are more and more technology options for smaller power tools for digital asset tracking that make recovering stolen items more feasible.
Theft on jobsites is an expensive problem for contractors and for construction costs as a whole. Special care should be taken to utilize preventive measures to minimize the opportunity for theft of materials, equipment and tools. As with other site logistics considerations, proper planning will help mitigate and reduce the opportunity for theft from a given jobsite.