Construction site theft is a serious and growing problem in the construction industry, exacerbated more recently by the COVID19 pandemic, when thousands of construction workers were told to put down tools and sent home – leaving sites sitting idle for months and consequently a sitting duck for would-be intruders. From heavy machinery and tools, to scrap metal and building materials, construction site theft can result in significant losses for contractors and project owners. Moreover, theft can cause delays in construction timelines, leading to increased costs and decreased productivity.
According to a report by the Chartered Institute of Building it’s estimated that in the UK alone, the construction industry suffers a loss of more than £400 million annually because of theft and vandalism. In the USA, the National Equipment Register estimates that theft costs the industry between $300 million and $1 billion each year. Additionally, vandalism can also result in significant costs to contractors through the repair and replacement of damaged property, and the delays this may cause in construction schedules.
The true cost of theft and vandalism to the construction industry is substantial and can have a significant impact on the success of construction projects. In this article, we’ll explore ways in which contractors can deter and prevent crime on their job sites.
Types of crime that occur on construction sites
The Chartered Institute of Building surveyed 1,100 construction industry professionals to identify what types of crime they’ve experienced on their construction site. According to their survey, crimes that commonly take place include:
- Theft – including personal property, tools, plant and building materials
- Vandalism – including graffiti, damage to site and damage to materials and site equipment
- Health and safety breaches
Fortunately, there are steps construction site managers can take to reduce crime on their job sites. By being proactive, and employing measures to improve security, construction companies can help ensure the success of their projects and protect their valuable assets.
Construction site security checklist
1. Security lighting
A well lit job site doesn’t only deter thieves, but it also helps prevent accidents and keeps workers safe – especially in the winter months when it tends to be darker in the morning and early evenings. The Health and Safety Executive have published guidelines when it comes to construction site lighting, stating that every part of the site should have enough natural light so people can do their job safely, and where there is no natural light artificial lights should be provided.
2. Doors and gates
A report by the National Business Crime Centre on construction site security, states that “Entrances to the site should be kept to a minimum to make it harder for unauthorised persons to gain access”. Gates should also be constructed in a way that means they have a little to no gap underneath which will prevent intruders from accessing the site by crawling underneath the gate.
Construction site hoarding is a temporary barrier which shields a building site from the general public, and helps ensure the safety of both the public and workers on site. Careful consideration should be given to the placement of hoarding as it can be used by thieves to gain access to a construction site. A common mistake made when installing hoarding is placing it next to street furniture e.g. walls, benches etc as these can be used as a foothold to gain unauthorised access to a site.
4. Construction site video surveillance
Job sites are often challenging to monitor with CCTV, in many cases the site doesn’t yet have the ground infrastructure to support wired internet which means options when it comes to video surveillance are limited. Furthermore, construction sites usually only need CCTV temporarily whilst the build is underway so video surveillance security systems can be overlooked. This is a mistake, almost 60% of respondents surveyed by the Chartered Institute of Building said that they thought CCTV was an effective deterrent to crime. Security cameras are not only a deterrent to thieves, but also help keep workers safe and monitor build progress when installed correctly. The office of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner offers more guidance on this for those in the U.K.
If a site has no wired internet connection then mobile surveillance trailers, or CCTV towers, are a fast and efficient way to monitor the site. These temporary towers are self-standing and can be powered by a generator or solar energy, and are an effective deterrent for would-be criminals. If features such as remote access to footage, centralised viewing or multi-user permissions are required then a cloud-backup service like Videoloft could be a solution. Videoloft works reliably over 4G/5G networks and is often used alongside solar powered mobile surveillance trailers.
5. Plant machinery and tools
Plant and tools are one of the biggest targets for thieves because of their high resale value. Security managers should ensure there is a proper process in place when it comes to use of machinery and tools onsite. Tools should be marked and vehicle VINs (Vehicle Identification Number) should be noted down to help aid stolen vehicle recovery.
If tools and materials need to be left on site over night or at the weekend, then Security Managers should ensure that they have a secure storage unit onsite and a proper inventory process in place which means that tools and equipment can be kept track of at all times.
Other things to consider when protecting a construction site from theft, vandalism or health and safety breaches include signage and warning notices. Often a simple ‘CCTV in operation’ sign can be enough to deter a potential intruder. Additionally access control systems are also a useful way to monitor who is entering and leaving a building site and can help reduce the risk of an intruder entering the site.
Construction site theft is a big problem – causing financial loss and project delays. In most cases crimes occur because of ‘security negligence’, and could have otherwise been avoided if more robust security measures had been put in place. For instance, using a good video surveillance system with cloud backup means that a site can be monitored remotely, 24/7 – deterring potential criminals and allowing prompt intervention should an incident occur. Moreover, footage obtained from a CCTV system can help police identify and capture the offenders which increases the chance of successful recovery of any stolen items. Investing in security measures is essential, not only to protect the construction site, but also to reduce the financial and time losses caused by theft.