As a general rule, whenever the economy is booming, so is the construction sector. And whenever the construction industry enjoys a surge in productivity, so does another time-honoured business, except this one is dominated by bandits and somewhat less helpful to the economy -- construction equipment theft.
Construction site theft has become a major concern in the industry, and when you look at the statistics you can perfectly see why some are labelling it an epidemic. South of the border it's estimated anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion in equipment and materials are stolen from construction sites every year, while in Canada that figure is closer to $45 million.
Here’s what you need to know about this rising trend, and what you can do to ramp up your construction site’s security.
From building materials to basic tools to heavy equipment, stealing from construction sites is a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for thieves, made even easier courtesy of the surprisingly high number of unsecured construction sites in operation.
One recent survey of 100 Canadian construction companies revealed that on average each one of those companies was victimized by this type of theft twice a year, with losses averaging $25,900 for licensed vehicles and $1,600 for tools. To make matters worse, less than 25% of stolen equipment is ever recovered.
The damage isn't strictly limited to the cost of replacing the stolen inventory either. There's also lost productivity to consider, time wasted having to file police reports and insurance claims, the cost of renting or financing replacement equipment, higher insurance premiums, and the hefty fines construction firms can be saddled with when deadlines aren't met as a result of these delays. While there are no absolute numbers available, it's estimated that in the United States losses due to construction site theft exceed $1 billion annually.
Given the ubiquity of these crimes and that controlling theft from a construction site can make the difference between profit and loss for a project, you'd think business owners would be especially diligent about implementing security measures on their work sites. Yet one of the reasons why construction site theft is so rampant is because the lax to non-existent security found at most locations makes this type of crime so easy.
The key to preventing construction equipment theft is deterrence. The harder you make it for thieves to get their hands on your property, the less likely they'll be to target you.
Adhering to the following guidelines should render your site more trouble than it's worth to thieves, and also deter any potential vandals in the neighbourhood.
- Many construction sites are located in poorly-lit open areas, making them easy, appealing targets to the criminal element. Arrange to keep your worksite well-illuminated at night with high powered motion-activated lighting.
- Place Internet-connected security cameras (with backup battery power) all around the site, and store the recordings.
- Hire security. This might seem obvious, but many construction sites are simply left vacant at the end of the day, welcoming thieves to come on in and take their time stealing your inventory. If possible, keep the entire perimeter fenced in with controlled access at the gates.
- Keep a list of people who are authorized to enter the worksite and use certain pieces of equipment. Make sure all visitors show proper identification and are logged in and out of the site.
- Post signage all around the site making it abundantly clear that your company pursues and prosecutes criminals.
Take the following precautions to further safeguard your most valuable equipment and inventory from theft:
- Attach GPS tracking devices to all vehicles and lock their oil and gas caps. RFID (radio frequency identification technology) is another option to keep track of tools and equipment.
- Make it a policy that all employees disconnect the batteries of the vehicles and heavy equipment they used at the end of the day and keep them in a well-secured on-site storage shed overnight. Lock the vehicles, and for extra good measure remove their ignition fuses.
- Consider installing gauge protectors and panel locks on all of your equipment, or possibly engine immobilizer systems.
- Keep records of all your equipment, complete with serial numbers, VIN's, list of key holders, etc. The more detailed the list, the better chance the equipment may be recovered if stolen.
- Engrave your own ID codes on all equipment.
- Register your equipment with an organization that maintains databases of heavy equipment ownership and theft information, such as Crime Stoppers.
This is an admittedly exhaustive list, and while there's no doubt it's worth your while to implement as many of the above suggestions as possible, even just a few of them will go a long way towards insulating your construction site from theft.
Another thing your company can do to help curb the trade in stolen construction equipment is to make sure you never unwittingly buy stolen inventory yourself. Apart from the obvious ethical concerns and legalities involved -- the latter which could easily result in criminal prosecution -- remember that should the authorities determine you are in possession of stolen equipment, it will almost certainly be seized.
The simplest way to ensure you don't get hustled into purchasing stolen goods is to purchase your equipment from a reputable, legitimate dealer. They will have already conducted background checks on the equipment in question in order to confirm that everything is above board.
If you’re purchasing from an auction or another, more anonymous source, you will need to do a background check yourself. One relatively simple way to arrange this is to acquire an item's serial number or PIN (product identification number) and have your local police run it through their system to see if it's been reported stolen. If you’re purchasing through a private seller, ask for a copy of the original sales invoice and make sure the name on it matches the seller’s name.
Construction site theft remains a serious problem plaguing the industry. However, it wouldn't be anyway near as epidemic as it's become if business owners put better security measures into practice. Following the above recommendations will help ensure that your own worksites are better protected from the thieves only too eager to capitalize on the situation.
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