Combatting Construction Theft
The last few years proved challenging for professionals in the construction industry. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted virtually every industry, but the construction sector was particularly vulnerable because of its inherent sensitivity to economic cycles.
Aside from grappling with halted projects, a shortage of skilled workers and other problems, one lesser-known issue has become quite concerning for the construction industry — site theft. Not every firm will experience theft or vandalism on every project they take on, but it is becoming more common and costing companies time and money.
Learn more about construction theft, why it’s happening more often, the common types of construction theft and what you can do to prevent theft on your construction site.
Cases of Theft on Construction Sites are Climbing
While the construction industry experienced a strong comeback after the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, construction theft is becoming more frequent for firms nationwide.
After lockdowns, people began buying concert tickets, tropical vacations and other everyday activities. Many also wanted to get started on new construction projects once it was safe to do so. However, increased construction activities open up more opportunities for thieves to steal materials and equipment from a construction site if employees leave it unattended.
According to Statista, construction spending reached a whopping $1.6 trillion in 2021 and will likely grow in the coming years. The more construction sites crop up around the country, the more cases of theft experts expect.
Why is Construction Theft Getting Worse?
Construction sites have quickly become a prime target because thieves want to earn a big payday. The National Crime Insurance Bureau estimated that construction theft lost job sites an average of $400 million. There’s only a 21% recovery rate for stolen property.
Two main reasons construction theft is getting worse are construction equipment and materials are becoming increasingly expensive and labour shortages have remained steady. The pandemic has caused significant supply-chain disruptions, thus increasing the prices of materials and impacting overall employment rates.
Substantial construction sites full of expensive heavy machinery or other equipment seem attractive to a potential thief. Criminals who access a construction site will try to steal materials or heavy equipment to resell. It’s generally considered a low-risk and high reward to commit construction theft.
In terms of labour shortages, if there are not a sufficient number of skilled workers on-site to keep an eye on machinery and equipment, it can leave the site vulnerable to theft. When a construction site lacks any security or theft-prevention measures, it can become quite simple for someone to steal valuable materials like metal, lumber, brick or concrete.
While stealing materials or equipment is bad enough, thieves may also cause damage to projects — which will require more time, money and labour to fix.
Most Common Types of Construction Theft
It’s crucial for construction firms and their workers to understand the most common types of construction theft. By identifying how someone may steal materials or which equipment is most vulnerable to theft, you can implement viable strategies to reduce the chances of theft and protect your site.
Many instances of theft are planned crimes or opportunistic crimes. Here is a list of the common types of construction theft sites that must be on the lookout for:
It’s common for small, handheld construction tools to go missing from a site. It doesn’t take much effort to swipe handheld tools and go unnoticed. Sometimes, companies may identify an untrustworthy employee as the culprit, which they usually handle with disciplinary action. It may also take time for a site manager to notice a missing tool, especially if it’s small or not in frequent use.
In terms of a residential construction site, large appliances such as microwave ovens and refrigerators are at risk of being stolen. When construction companies are building several new residences in one area, they can easily lose track of all the appliances in each house. For this reason, you need to take inventory of all devices and find a way to protect them from theft.
As mentioned above, construction companies use various pieces of heavy equipment to progress on their projects. Some common types of construction equipment include:
- Dump Trucks
Due to the size of these pieces of equipment, a thief must do extra planning and more thorough orchestration to commit this crime. Regardless, losing heavy equipment can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Copper and Metals
Copper costs around $4.01 per pound, which adds up quickly, even for one project. Along with other metals, thieves could resell materials at a higher cost so they can profit significantly. It’s also easier to steal copper or metal than any heavy equipment, depending on its size.
Tips for Preventing Theft on a Construction Site
Construction theft is something companies and their workers must be aware of and actively work against. You don’t want a project to experience disruptions, but construction theft can do just that — set projects back, lead to missed deadlines and foster poor relationships between clients and contractors.
Here are some simple tips to keep in mind to combat construction theft while it’s at an all-time high:
1. Design Sites With Security in Mind
Rather than implementing security measures after the fact, you should prioritize designing a construction site with protection. The goal should be to make it physically challenging for would-be criminals to enter the area, trespass and steal equipment or materials.
Take the perimeter of the site and surrounding areas into account when designing a construction site to ensure you can put security measures in place in key locations.
2. Install Sufficient Lighting
It’s well-known that outdoor lighting can be an effective deterrent in preventing criminal activity. While lighting alone will not protect all types of equipment, installing adequate outdoor lighting in and around the site is critical. Proper illumination may deter criminals from stealing anything because pedestrians could spot them or guards would apprehend them.
3. Set Up Fences Around the Site
Fences are another deterrent that can show criminals they are not welcome onto a construction site, no matter the time of day. Installing a durable and portable fence makes it harder for a criminal to access the site — a potential thief must be strong enough to climb and hop the fence and toss any tools or equipment back over the fence during the crime.
4. Store Equipment Safely
Another way to prevent construction theft is to store expensive materials, tools or equipment in a commercial storage unit or garage nearby. While it is a hassle to transport items to and from a construction site, it’s better to prevent theft and add extra labour than to lose anything and pay for a replacement.
Commercial garages are durable, but they are subject to wear and tear. Motors, springs, and sensors are some of the more common areas to need repairs. If there are any faulty entry points, that could be an easy way for materials and equipment to be burglarized. When storing materials, make sure the facility they are held in is up to date and managed efficiently.
5. Keep Records and Register Equipment
Keeping a detailed record of what equipment, materials and tools your company uses is a good idea. It can help if you hold on to purchase receipts and register any gear you buy through the National Equipment Register.
6. Install Security Cameras
Many sites will install advanced security cameras and systems to keep trespassers out. Again, this may entail paying high upfront costs, but taking proactive steps to prevent construction theft can save more money in the long run. Consider researching which security systems will work best for your site, which is most affordable and which one will deter would-be intruders.
Ultimately, construction equipment and materials are too valuable to leave unattended. It’s best to follow the tips listed above to combat construction theft — a significant issue the construction industry faces.
Avoid Theft on Construction Sites
Every missing piece of equipment or material on a site will impact the overall margin of a project, meaning companies must protect their sites from theft. You may need extra effort, time and money to implement security measures and prevent theft, but these are worthwhile investments that can save headaches later on.