By Philip Casto

Tool and equipment theft from job sites is a perennial problem for construction firms and contractors, costing anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion annually.1

Recent circumstances haven’t helped. With unforeseen stay-at-home orders and work stoppages, construction companies and contractors couldn’t adhere to normal project scale-down and off-boarding processes. That often meant job sites were shut down immediately, leaving foreman and tradesmen to secure equipment and tools as fast as possible — and hope it would still be there when they returned to work.

Construction site theft is a chronic problem. It includes taking anything that will fit in a pickup truck, from power tools to copper wiring, to expensive electronics like GPS and 3-D measurement systems. There have also been ongoing reports of organized criminals stealing large equipment that typically comes with a six-figure price tag.

In addition to the replacement costs of the equipment, construction-site theft costs contractors in other ways: Time lost causes project delays and may lead to liquidated damages, lost or wasted man-hours and increased expenditures, such as rental equipment costs.

So as partial shutdowns continue — and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment may be stored on site — how should contractors and construction companies keep their sites secure?

Consider implementing the following five protocols:

  • Permanently identify and inventory tools and equipment. Mark or label everything—from smaller hand tools to heavy equipment— with the company name. Use welders or etching tools to make the identification hard to remove; don’t forget to mark attachments and removable parts as well. This helps firms identify and reclaim stolen property. Another secure option for labeling: microdot identification technology systems. Also, it’s important to document exactly what’s on site, so missing equipment and tools can be identified, and to facilitate recovery.
  • The more security, the better. It’s harder for criminals to break through multiple defenses. Start with locked a fully encapsulated building envelope, locked doors and climb-resistant fencing, with surveillance warnings and notice of penalties to trespassers posted prominently. Also limit the number of access points to the site. On-site guards may seem expensive but can be a cost-effective security measure for sites in high-crime areas. Abundant lighting of sites at night is critical and can be an effective deterrent.
  • Think technology. A variety of newer protocols can enhance security for every firm. All projects should consider motion-activated camera systems to monitor all angles and points of entry; SMS push notifications from the motion sensors can provide project managers alerts in real time. On larger construction sites, internet-enabled tags equipped with sensors can monitor equipment in real time. Other “Internet of Things” (IoT)-inspired solutions track indoor, outdoor and equipment motion, fire, water and humidity levels. Tracking equipment with GPS is another option, but ensure your installer hides the GPS tracker so that it’s not easily located and disabled.
  • Limit the mobility factor. Easily portable and drivable equipment needs extra attention. Put generators, welders and smaller equipment behind locked doors, such as inside a Connex box or inside the building envelope. The most commonly stolen equipment includes skid-steer loaders and tractors, so consider solutions like hydraulic locks and options for hidden disconnects.
  • Storage matters, too. Adequate, secured storage is another must. Gang boxes should have enclosed and recessed locking points and locks that can’t be drilled open. Wheels on gang boxes should be removed, and boxes should be locked down once they’ve been set on site. Workers should bring all equipment back to the shop whenever possible, to avoid bringing tools home and leaving them in a vehicle where they’re vulnerable.

HUB International’s construction services specialists can help contractors manage current and future risks related to construction site theft.

1 “2016 Annual Theft Report” (2017).