Home » Thieves on the Prowl: Combating Theft in the Construction Industry

Thieves on the Prowl: Combating Theft in the Construction Industry

Posted by Sudesh Jangalee on May 26, 2023

Construction sites are a common target for thieves. With valuable materials, tools, and equipment typically left unsecured overnight, it’s no surprise that these jobsites are increasingly falling victim to construction theft. In fact, construction theft was a hot topic at the recent Canadian Construction Association conference as reported by ConstructConnect Daily Commercial News 

Silvy Wright, president and CEO of Northbridge Financial Corp., said the number one insurance claim in the construction industry is theft, which represents almost 40% of their claims. Wright explains that supply chain problems continue to hinder the industry because they increased the value of materials and equipment. Inflation and higher interest rates do not help matters where theft is concerned. 

Signs Construction Theft Is Rising 

These problems aren’t limited to Canada. Procore CEO Tooey Courtemanch tells Daily Commercial News that it’s a global problem that also affects the U.S. construction market. 

It’s not just large equipment and materials being taken. The theft of power tools has climbed as well. The NYU Dispatch reports power tool theft will likely continue until at least 2025. They theorize that a reason for rising theft is criminals assuming law enforcement won’t prioritize cases involving lower-priced items. This has proven true as many states have recategorized some former felony crimes as misdemeanors. Savvy criminals view the theft of materials as low risk with a high reward. 

No doubt, you probably know about the National Equipment Register report. The report indicates theft of heavy equipment costs an average of $400 million dollars every year. The likelihood of having the stolen equipment found and returned is slight- NER’s report shows fewer than one-quarter of stolen items are recovered.  

What many may not realize is this data doesn’t tell the whole story, because of the numbers of thefts that go unreported. Companies fear their insurance premiums will go up if they report “minor” thefts, making construction theft overall underreported. Additionally, the statistics don’t include the cost of lost workdays due to work stoppage because it takes time to replace the stolen equipment or materials.  

The Cost of Construction Theft 

As previously mentioned, Silvy Wright asserts that the supply chain has driven up the cost of equipment and materials. The National Association of Home Builders confirms this as it explains the cost of materials grew about 19% year over year and almost doubled to 36% since 2020.  

Materials seeing higher price tags include steel, softwood lumber, gypsum, and ready-mix concrete products. It turns out there’s a concrete shortage as well, as explained in a WCNC story. This shortage affects many construction projects.  

After a theft happens, a construction company is forced to scramble to find a replacement. Unfortunately, it’s harder to replace heavy equipment regardless of if a construction company opts to buy or rent. Many construction companies have turned to equipment rental because it’s more cost-effective than buying.  

An article in InTents Magazine shows the equipment rental industry is thriving. More companies are opting for it over buying, and the American Rental Association (ARA) forecasts a 9.68% increase in rental revenue for a total of $52.5 billion in one year.  

It may be more challenging to find available equipment to rent. Renting is not as cheap as it used to be. International Rental News reports rental companies feeling the squeeze from inflation have to raise their rentals rates as their margins were declining. 

Some companies may respond to construction theft by replacing stolen equipment with used equipment. Like most everything else, used equipment prices have also increased. Ritchie Bros Asset Solutions’ Market Trends Report states truck tractor prices are up by 23% year over year (YOY) in the U.S. Medium earth-moving equipment has increased by 28% YOY in Canada.  

Construction businesses and contractors must also be careful about buying used and refurbished equipment because some of the equipment itself is actually stolen. The cost of a replacement — whether you buy new, rent, or opt for used — will likely have a higher price tag than the original purchase or rental. The key to avoiding all these higher costs is to prevent theft from happening in the first place. 

7 Ways to Deter Construction Theft 

These seven ways will bolster your construction site security no matter the size and location of the site. The more of these you implement, the more layers you’ll have in your security. Any time trespassers break through a layer, they will have more barriers to slow them down and maybe force them to leave the site empty-handed.  

1. Put up a fence around the perimeter 

It may or may not be possible to install a fence around the boundary. If it’s doable, set up the fencing to create one entry and one exit point. This will reduce the risk of trespassing 

It also gives you greater control of the people entering the construction site including pick-ups and deliveries. Yes, some determined thieves can cut through the fence or climb over it. You can create another barrier by adding barbed wires.  

2. Add lighting 

Dark construction sites attract thieves. One of the simplest, cheapest, and most effective ways to battle this is with lighting. Lighting works as a deterrent when no one is on the construction site, and can also eliminate hiding spaces.   

There are a lot of factors to consider where effective lighting is concerned, not just brightness. Color and hue can also make a difference. The right kind of lighting matters.  

It’s highly advised to work with a security expert on lighting. The person can review the construction site to make recommendations for lighting. While it costs to hire a security consultant, they can save you money because it’s easy to overspend on lighting.  

3. Lock up materials and Equipment 

Obviously, not everything can be locked down. Just be aware that organized crime gangs steal everything including heavy equipment. They’ll bring a trailer. You can add another layer by using GPS trackers. This brings up the next item. 

4. Insert GPS trackers 

Be aware there are GPS jammers that can disable the GPS. However, not every suspect will think to do this or have the resources. Do what you can to hide the GPS. 

GPS will make it easy to know where your assets are at any point in time. You’ll be able to track down replacements quickly anytime equipment breaks down or gets stolen. Since you’re adding GPS to assets, it’ll make the next item easier.  

5. Inscribe identifiable information on assets 

As mentioned before, GPS trackers are not perfect. They can be jammed or not work. That’s why it’s useful to engrave identifying information on the tools and equipment. Etching business information on the equipment may prevent theft. The inscription can signal to sellers that the item may be stolen.  

As you work to add GPS, take the time to stamp identifiable information on the assets. The thought of doing an inventory of assets feels daunting. Start with the most expensive assets.  

Think about investing in an asset management system. You can add identifying information into the system. Anytime something goes missing, you’ll have the information along with photos to prove it’s your asset. It will also help law enforcement. 

6. Use an asset tracking system 

An asset management tracking system can do more than manage your assets and provide details about each one. Any time you need equipment or a replacement, the asset tracking system can make it a breeze to find one.  

An asset management system can automatically alert you whenever an asset needs servicing or maintenance. This will prolong the life of the asset. The system can simplify the process of ensuring every project has the right asset at the right time.  

Between the high cost of materials and the worker shortage, it’s essential for a construction company to maximize every asset. An asset tracking system reduces the risk of broken equipment, injuries that come with malfunctioning equipment, and lost work time from finding replacements.  

7. Install video surveillance with monitoring 

A proactive security system that comes with multiple security layers is video surveillance with remote monitoring and video analytics. This puts eyes on a construction site and has the ability to help deter crime. Using both video analytics and human intelligence to view your site helps eliminate errors.  

You gain the best of both worlds by pairing humans and technology. Analytics eases the trained monitoring operator’s workload. The system can catch impending problems before anything happens. As soon as they identify a possible issue, they alert the human who responds. This partnership makes it possible to catch things early like suspects approaching a site. The timing matters as it deters damage and can lead to an arrest quickly on the site. 

The monitoring operators work at a site away from the construction project. Anytime they confirm someone is on the site who does not belong, they issue an audible warning over the remote speaker. If the suspects don’t leave, then the operator starts calling the police while tracking the intruders’ movements.  

A Summary of Construction Security 

In conclusion, theft is a serious problem in the construction industry that won’t go away soon. The good news is that there are effective solutions to help companies protect their valuable assets and prevent construction theft. Video surveillance stands out because it has multiple checks and balances as well as layers of security. It deters theft, provides visual proof of construction theft, and helps identify potential safety hazards to lower the risk of injuries. 

In addition to video surveillance, construction companies should also consider other security measures such as access control, perimeter fencing, lighting, and locking up equipment. Adding GPS and identifying information on equipment can help avert theft as it will make it harder for the thieves to sell the item.  

Then, you’ll need the asset management system to manage it all effectively. By implementing a comprehensive security plan with these measures, construction companies can significantly cut the risk of theft on their construction sites. 

The investment in a comprehensive security plan with video surveillance will lead to an ROI within months. By protecting their valuable assets, construction companies can position themselves for success in an increasingly competitive industry. 

To learn more about security to prevent construction theft, check out the construction security and safety best practices guide. If you’d like to know more, feel free to contact us.  

Texas Private Security License Number: B14187.