Video surveillance is one of many essential tools that can identify and stop thieves.
Construction site theft continues to be a significant concern for contractors, according to major reports by the National Equipment Register (NER) in 2016 and 2022. This not only hits contractors hard in their wallets, but also trickles down to clients, subcontractors, and even individual workers, many of whom will be hit the hardest financially from these crimes.
As losses continue to climb, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do about construction site theft – it’s just the way things are. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to prevent your business from becoming another victim.
The state of construction theft today
Before we explore the ins and outs of prevention, it’s worth getting some context on the state of construction theft today. No surprise, it involves real money, to the tune of $300 million to $1 billion a year, according to the NEM’s 2016 report.
And every level of the business is vulnerable, including cranes, excavators, scrap metal, and lumber. Some heists are very carefully planned by organized gangs, others are spur-of-the-moment inside jobs inspired by keys left in a loader or a gate left unlocked. But regardless of who commits them or how they do it, these crimes have an impact on every aspect of the project, including:
- Delays in schedule. There are no disposable elements at a construction site, so when something goes missing, it has to be replaced. This can range from a quick run to the store to a special order that takes weeks to arrive.
- Increased costs. Most costs are built into the project ahead of time based on the current market value of goods. If something needs to be replaced quickly, the price will likely be higher, if only due to the extra expense of rush orders and priority shipping.
- Reduced cash flow. In order to keep things moving, a contractor may have to pay for replacement parts or equipment out-of-pocket while waiting for an insurance reimbursement.
- Missed payments. Delays from theft can slow down the schedule, which means missed milestones. For every milestone a contractor misses, that’s one less progress payment in the bank.
- Increased insurance premiums. When tools or equipment go missing and need to be replaced in a hurry, most contractors have no choice but to file a claim with their insurance company. And once a claim is filed, their premiums are likely to increase.
How can contractors avoid these situations? A comprehensive security strategy is a good place to start.
What you can do to stop construction site theft
Even though theft at construction sites remains an ongoing concern, there are some immediate steps you can take to prevent it:
- Draft a security plan. It’s crucial to educate workers on acceptable safety protocols. This includes rules for managing keys and access codes, preventing unauthorized access to secure areas, and removing scrap for personal use. And don’t forget to send a list of these policies to any subcontractors working on the project, so that their teams have the same respect for the rules as yours do.
- Prequalify your contractors. Thoroughly vetting subcontractors can be a useful tool to stop internal theft. They often work multiple sites and know what valuables are on each of them. Prequalifying your on-the-ground team will show any flags that pop up from their previous jobs.
- Limit access and keep track of inventory. Tighten up your site’s perimeter with fencing, barbed wire, and gates. Control access with on-site security personnel or remote video surveillance. Empower your managers (and discourage them from stealing) by tasking them with tracking inventory, including making detailed records with images. This makes it easier to prove that a stolen item is yours.
- Secure vehicles and valuables. Keep close track of vehicle keys – this may be another opportunity to pass the responsibility on to your team. Secure equipment that can be towed (like generators, compressors, or light plants) with locked chains and surround them with barriers or larger equipment. Set up laydown areas to put everything overnight, clearly in view of monitored security cameras.
- Install signage and lighting. This is one of the simpler ways to prevent theft, but it is effective. Clear, prominent signage stating that the site is monitored 24×7 can turn away many a crook. Likewise, portable lighting units can shed light wherever you need it, which not only discourages thieves but also allows your cameras to see better.
Although these methods can be quite effective, we haven’t really covered the best way to catch potential thieves.
Monitored video surveillance
As mentioned above, cameras are key to any serious attempt at stopping thieves in their tracks and protecting your property. Monitored video surveillance provides a 24/7 security team that can either try to deter thieves with two-way audio/video or alert local law enforcement as necessary. Police rely on surveillance footage to compare with other job sites, identify patterns, and track repeat offenders.
Mobile surveillance units (MSUs) are ideal for temporary structures commonly found at construction sites. As the project grows and changes, you can move the MSUs wherever they’re needed. Pick a wide-open space to store vehicles, materials, and equipment, and set up MSUs to cover the whole area. Add motion detectors and analytics, and you’ve got a powerful deterrent.
Don’t wait for thieves to strike
As long as there have been construction sites, there has been construction theft. Ask any contractor and they’ll tell you it’s nothing new. But with careful planning and prevention, you can dramatically lower your risk of becoming a victim.