Construction Site Theft Prevention

By Clifford Strong, CEO of JC Protection LLC | May 9, 2022

If you’ve been working in the construction industry for more than a few years, chances are good that you can think of at least one example of construction site theft that occurred on the job. Some contractors even think of minor instances of theft such as missing materials or hand tools as being normal.

No amount of workplace theft is normal or acceptable. Instead of finding ways to manage the increased project costs associated with this pervasive problem, read on to find out more about it and learn how to prevent theft at a construction site.

A Little Background

Before moving on to take a more in-depth look at construction site theft prevention, it’s worth taking a moment to emphasize how serious the problem is. Good, law-abiding citizens often have a hard time understanding the motivations of criminals and the pervasiveness of crime, which makes it difficult to act against it. To address this problem, let’s briefly evaluate the scale of the problem and the most common motivations of those perpetuating it.

How Often Do People Steal From Construction Sites?

People have been stealing from construction sites more often than ever in recent years. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and the National Equipment Register (NER) estimate that losses from construction theft can reach as high as $1 billion per year. Though there is no comprehensive database for related statistics that can be used to create a more exact estimate, most contractors will experience this problem at some point in their careers.

There are a few factors that could be contributing to the rise in construction site theft seen in recent years. The most influential of them is the usually low risk of getting caught. When the pandemic began, many already remote and infrequently worked construction sites got closed down entirely, making them look even more appealing as targets. People were also desperate for relief from their financial woes, and desperation often inspires a turn to crime.

Unfortunately, the pandemic’s end has not automatically put a stop to the problem. Contractors still need to focus on construction site theft prevention if they want to avoid the direct and indirect negative impacts of stolen equipment, tools, and materials.

Why Do People Steal From Construction Sites?

People steal from construction sites because without adequate construction site security, they tend to be easy targets. Construction sites are almost always located in public places where thieves can easily see all the valuable equipment, tools, and building materials left unprotected after-hours.

Until recently, most construction site thefts involved heavy equipment, expensive handheld tools, or high-value metals like copper piping. Since the COVID-19 pandemic drove up lumber prices, some thieves have been changing their focus and stealing everything from two-by-fours to plywood, instead.

What Are the Consequences of Construction Site Theft for Contractors?

The consequences of construction site theft for contractors extend beyond the monetary losses associated with purchasing new tools, equipment, or materials. Construction companies usually have insurance policies that will pay to purchase new items. However, those insurance policies rarely cover the indirect costs of construction site theft.

The indirect costs of construction site theft range from unanticipated downtime that can set back projects and wind up costing companies more in labor and material costs to reputational losses and fewer returning clients. Property owners are less likely to work with companies that don’t seem to take construction site theft prevention seriously. The bad press that results from news stories about thefts within the industry can also dissuade people from working with certain contractors.

The Basics of Construction Site Theft Prevention

There are many ways to help prevent construction site theft, but if you’re serious about maintaining the company’s reputation and putting a stop to missing tools, equipment, and materials, the first step to take is always the same. Hire a security company to provide guards for the site during off-hours.

Trained security guards provide the best form of deterrence against construction site theft. Their presence alone often convinces criminals to look elsewhere for easy targets, and if thieves are brave enough to break in, anyway, the guards will catch them and turn them over to the authorities.

Security experts recommend taking a multifaceted approach to construction site theft prevention. Even if you’ve already hired a company to provide security guards, it’s still important to take other preventative measures such as installing cameras, keeping the site well-lit, and contacting the local authorities to let them know unauthorized nighttime visitors should be stopped.

Keeping Construction Sites Safe at Night

Hiring security guards may be the best way to keep a construction site safe during non-operational hours, but it shouldn’t be the only method you use to prevent theft. The security company may also recommend installing cameras, motion-sensor lights, and additional fencing as needed. Beyond that, you can also take these steps to protect valuable equipment, tools, and materials:

1. Put Away Equipment at Night

It’s common for workers to leave tools and equipment lying around when they leave the job site with the intention of getting right back to work in the morning. You should explain to everyone working on the site that tools and equipment should be put away at night, ideally in a locked building or storage trailer.

2. Cut Fuel Supplies

Vehicles and heavy machinery need fuel to run. Installing kill switches in them will cut the fuel supply so that the equipment can’t be driven off the job site. Turning off circuit breakers can have the same effect.

3. Lock Up at Night

It’s common for workers to leave trucks unlocked by accident, which can create an opportunity for thieves. Encouraging workers to lock up vehicles, equipment, and storage trailers before heading home can create an extra deterrent to potential thieves.

4. Keep Material Inventory Low

With lumber prices as high as they have been, it should come as no surprise that building materials have become a popular target for criminals. Until recently, most contractors had little reason to worry about thieves driving away with a truck full of lumber because it wouldn’t have been profitable enough for the criminals to justify the risk. Now, all that has changed, so it’s best to keep the material inventory on-site as low as possible without creating disruptions to the workflow.

5. Install Cameras

Installing security cameras can act as an excellent deterrent to nighttime intruders. These cameras can be either remotely monitored or hooked up to recording devices to create videos for later review. Either way, it will create another layer of protection in the form of not just another effective crime deterrent but also potential evidence to convict thieves who are not deterred.

Preventing Theft During Operating Hours

Hiring guards can significantly reduce or even eliminate off-hours incidents, but it shouldn’t be the only construction site theft prevention measure put into place. Unfortunately, not all thieves are strangers. It’s just as common for invited visitors or even construction workers to steal from active job sites, and they don’t always wait until nightfall. To avoid this problem, you can:

1. Keep Records of Purchases

Keeping detailed records of every tool or piece of equipment purchased for use on the site can help to dissuade dishonest employees from stealing equipment. It won’t stop trespassers, who won’t know about the record, but it will make it easier to prevent thieves from reselling the items.

2. Perform Background Checks

Not all construction workers are trustworthy. As with any job, the industry attracts all kinds of people, some of whom might have criminal backgrounds. Performing comprehensive background checks on all new hires will alert you to any red flags.

3. Always Install Fencing

Some cities require construction firms to erect fences around their job sites, especially if they’re in highly trafficked areas. Even if there’s no code requirement, though, you should always install fencing before starting a new job. It won’t keep out every potential intruder, but a solid fence will make it much more challenging for thieves to gain entrance to the site and walk away with stolen goods.

4. Enforce a Theft Prevention Policy

Every construction company should have a theft prevention policy in place. However, even the most comprehensive policy won’t do any good if it isn’t implemented in response to employee thefts. Make sure every worker who enters the site understands the consequences of stealing and prosecute anyone who gets caught.

5. Put a Stop to Unauthorized Access

In an ideal situation, a construction site should only have one entry and exit point. It should be located near the employee and visitor parking lot, but you should ask everyone to park outside of the fence’s perimeter. If you’ve already hired 24/7 security guards, have one of them guard the gate. Otherwise, think about delegating the task to an employee, at least in the morning and evening when most people are entering and leaving the site.

Give JC Protection LLC a Call

If you need help with construction site theft prevention in New York City, give JC Protection LLC a call. We’ll be available to discuss your needs and come up with a plan for guarding the site effectively, so call (646) 793-9878 to get started.