How to Prevent Construction Site Theft

How to Prevent Construction Site Theft

Despite advancements in webcam technology, equipment tracking, and updated inventory systems, construction site theft is a major problem in the construction industry.

How big?

The National Equipment Register estimates that the construction industry loses over $1 billion a year from job site theft. That number grows by over 10% every year.

The cost to replace one lost or stolen piece of equipment is almost three times the value of the item itself. That’s because when you lose a piece of equipment not only do you have to repurchase the item, you also have to pay an employee to go out and search for a replacement when they could be doing other valuable tasks. You also have to report the theft to the authorities and your insurance carrier, raising the cost of your insurance premiums.

You may think that there’s nothing you can do to put a check job site theft at your worksite. It’s just a cost of business you incur when operating construction sites.

In reality, however, you, or your site manager, might be the reason theft is happening on your construction site, to begin with.

Most construction sites are not adequately set up to prevent job site theft. Even when construction sites are secured with jersey barriers or barricades to keep loiterers and vagrants out, there is plenty more to pay attention to in order to keep expensive machinery and equipment safe from more sophisticated predators. Studies show that “security negligence” (use that phrase at your next dinner party to impress/bore your friends), is the leading cause of construction theft.

Security negligence occurs in a number of areas:

  • Inadequate site security
  • Master keys that work for multiple pieces of machinery
  • Lack of adequate inventory systems
  • Lack of security on night and weekends

The rest of this article will walk you through why job site theft happens and what you can do to remedy the issue and put money back into your business.



Construction Site Theft

Why do thieves target construction sites?

When given a choice between a difficult robbery and an easy one, thieves will almost always choose the easy one (excluding Danny and Debbie Ocean), and the simple truth is that construction sites are easy targets.

Large industrial construction sites, small suburban homes, city worksites: all experience job site theft. That is mainly because thieves think of construction sites as "easy targets."

You may think your site is well protected, but modern thieves are always finding new, more efficient ways to rob your business almost every day. Sticking to old-school security measures, like two surveillance cameras at the exits and one nighttime security guard, won’t cut it.

Changing the way you operate your worksite on a day to day basis can have a massive effect on job site theft.


Which objects to thieves steal most often?

Most site managers are better prepared for the theft of construction safety materials, like copper or other precious materials, than they are for the theft of big-ticket machinery. Moreover, they’re not wrong to worry about the theft of precious metals, as copper theft itself is more than a billion dollar industry.

However, construction materials aren’t actually the most commonly stolen objects from job sites.

According to a report by the LoJack Corporation, these are the most commonly stolen items from construction sites:

  • Wheeled and Tracked Loaders (36%)
  • Towables (35%)
  • Skid Steer Loaders (15%)
  • Excavators (7%)
  • Utility Task Vehicles (5%)
  • Other/Construction Materials (2%)


Construction Lighting

Let there be light

A well-lit worksite is a well-protected worksite.

To explain why that is, let’s take a look at a case study of our favorite Game of Thrones dad joke deliverer and onion knight, Davos Seaworth.

In season seven of GOT, Davos is tasked with smuggling a high ranking politician in and out of King’s Landing. Yet despite his many years of smuggling experience, he chooses to carry out this operation in the middle of the day and, surprise surprise, gets caught.

Daytime King’s Landing Security Force: 1
Davos: 0

All joking aside, the benefits of security lighting are numerous. For starters, security lighting gives nighttime guards a better view of the area they need to protect.

Security lighting also increases visibility for security cameras (the lighter an area, the easier it is to identify an individual from a recording of the area).

These days, you can find solar powered static and motion sensor lighting to cover your entire worksite that can deter thieves and save energy costs.


Be a present manager

Just because large equipment and high-cost materials are the main sources of construction site theft, it doesn’t mean that the costs of stolen hammers and screwdrivers won’t add up.

To keep theft related expenditures down, you need to implement systems that prevent the robbery of big-ticket items and small, and the best way to deter small item theft is to make sure employees know they’re being watched.

But not in a creepy, I-know-what-you-did-last-shift, way. The goal is to make workers feel like their bosses care about what they do. Encourage managers to often comment on their supervisees progress and develop a rapport with them.

Workers who feel appreciated and mentored are significantly less likely to steal while on the job.


Schedule deliveries on an as-needed basis (& make sure a security guard is always there to receive the delivery)

Scheduling massive delivery of 2 x 4s at the beginning of your project that will see your project through to completion might seem like a good idea, but large stockpiles of supplies that don’t get used immediately are open treasure chests for burglars.

Purchase supplies on an as-needed basis, and only keep in stock what you need for a week at a time. Otherwise, when you go to use the steel stud frames you ordered six months ago and left in a pile on the edge of your job site, you might find they’re no longer where they should be.

Scheduling as-needed deliveries takes much more communication and planning between your inventory specialists and site managers, so make sure you implement a system that makes it easy for everyone to stay on the same page.

It’s also important to make sure a security guard is present for all scheduled deliveries. If you don’t and expensive equipment and materials get dropped off without anyone present, you’re creating a window of opportunity for thieves to steal.

If scheduling deliveries is something you’ve struggled with in the past, or if you currently operate under the order-everything-I-need-all-at-once model of construction site delivery, know that there are construction management software systems that can help organize your deliveries across multiple teams.


Construction Site Theft

Follow through on your theft prevention policies

Saying there are consequences for employee worksite theft is one thing, actually following through on those consequences is another.

Establishing theft prevention policies isn’t enough to deter employee theft, workers need to know that there are real consequences.

Create a zero tolerance policy and let your workers, subcontractors, and consultants know that you will seek prosecution for everything from borrowing tools for side jobs after work hours or taking scrap materials for resale or personal use.


Make your worksite unattractive to criminals

According to this study, there are two types of burglars: deliberate planners and impulsive opportunists.

Deliberate planners scope out their targets and spend time figuring out how to quickly and efficiently get in and out of a worksite. These types of burglars make up the minority and are more difficult to ignore.

Impulsive opportunists, who make up the majority of burglars, are always looking for an easy win and are easily deterred, even by something as simple as a “No Trespassing” sign.

Theft is a crime of opportunity, and when burglars are given reason to believe that robbing your worksite would be difficult, they will find an easier target.

You might think that fences, “No Trespassing” signs, and motion sensor lighting are basic security measures that you can throw up without thinking, but strategically implementing these “basics” is key to deterring the majority of criminals.

Burglars know when you’ve put effort into worksite security and when you haven’t. If your fences are falling apart, you only have a few off-kilter “No Trespassing” signs set up and a couple of security lights at the entrance, criminals will take that as a signal that your worksite is easy to rob.

Perform regular security checks of your worksite to make sure that your security systems are in good working order.

Check that the locks on tools and equipment aren’t loose. Look for holes or breaks in your fencing. Make sure that you have enough security signs and that they haven’t been defaced. Verify that a security guard will be posted at all times in the place where all of your worksite keys are located.


Lockdown heavy equipment

Nothing is more counterproductive to your project’s progress than showing up at your site and finding your forklift is missing.

At the end of each workday, take some extra time to secure your heavy equipment.

On the low tech end, lower buckets and blades, remove wheels and batteries and use locks that freeze control systems. On the high tech end, install alarms, ignition cut-off switches, and GPS tracking devices.

It’s also important to register your heavy equipment with companies like Heavy Equipment Registration or the National Equipment Register. Registering your heavy equipment helps law enforcement locate and retrieve stolen items for their rightful owners.


Keep very detailed records

Having a paper trail that details when supplies arrived, when they were used, and when they were replaced will help you effectively monitor what is being stolen and when.

These days, there are site management software systems that not only take inventory but also identify which objects are most commonly stolen from your worksite and where you need to tighten up security.

Also, starting in 2000, equipment manufacturers worldwide started using a 17-digit product identification number (PIN) on all pieces of heavy equipment, and you can use this ID number to your advantage.

Bead weld or engrave this PIN number in two places on each piece of equipment: one hidden and one large and obvious, then take photos of the engravings and store them with your inventory records.

When you report stolen inventory to the cops, they will be able to use the photos to verify whom the equipment belongs to.


Install extra security cameras

We can’t say it enough: worksite theft happens most often when thieves identify your worksite as an easy target. If thieves have reason to believe they’ll get caught, more often than not they will move on to another target.

Well placed security cameras not only discourage theft, but they also provide information on thieves when theft does happen. A well-protected worksite will have enough cameras to provide a picture of the entire worksite. As watchers of any heist movie ever (really, any of them) will know, burglars thrive in the “dark” areas where cameras are not.


Implementing these systems won’t guarantee you’ll never have another stolen screwdriver, but it will go a long way towards deterring worksite theft. To learn more about theft prevention and construction site security, reach out to your local contractor’s theft prevention agency, local contractors association, or law enforcement agency.

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