8 ways to protect against jobsite theft

Time and money are at a premium when it comes to construction. Losing out on one or the other can derail an entire project and lead to bigger losses down the road. 

Threats to time and money can come from anywhere, but thefts top the chart, accounting for the most overall losses in construction compared with other risks, like vandalism, fire damage and collision. In fact, industry experts attribute a staggering $1 billion in losses to theft each year. 

While jobsite theft isn’t new, the risk it poses has exploded since the pandemic. With continued supply chain issues and inflated material prices, today’s contractors are taking the brunt of that risk. 

In Denver, CO, the industry saw a 36% increase in jobsite thefts in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021. It’s not just a big city problem, though. Contractors all across North America reported increases in thefts in 2022, making improved theft protection measures more important than ever.

Common jobsite theft targets

Construction yards are used to store valuable tools, equipment and materials, but often the security of these large outdoor spaces isn’t enough to prevent thieves from helping themselves. 

The top three most frequently stolen items from construction sites include: 

  • Tools: Thieves steal tools more often than other equipment, with some studies finding that close to 40% of stolen goods are tools. This includes any type of handheld or power tool used during construction. Since tools are easy to hide, remove and resell, they make an easy target for thieves. 
  • Heavy construction equipment: It’s hard to believe someone could steal a backhoe or a bulldozer without being seen, but people steal heavy equipment nine times more often than they vandalize it. Because heavy equipment boasts such a high resale value, thieves are highly motivated to steal these items whenever possible. 

  • Building materials: Lumber, copper, brass mill shapes and steel account for 11.3% of jobsite thefts. Construction materials revolve in popularity for thieves, depending on market demand and cost. Increasing materials prices drive these types of thefts, with more expensive materials seeing higher theft rates. With lumber up 60% since 2021, it’s been a big target for thieves looking to resell the materials and also for opportunist thieves sourcing material for their own personal projects.

More than just stolen goods

In 2019, a single incident of theft cost an average of $5,865. Since then, building material prices have increased by over 35%, which means there’s even more on the line for contractors who become victims of construction site theft.

Law Enforcement is able to recover less than 25% of stolen construction goods, with some sources claiming recovery in less than 7% of cases. Often, the goods are just gone, which causes a domino effect of losses including:

  • Project delays due to missing tools, equipment, or materials
  • Additional costs associated with project delays (employee wages, liquidated damages, rental extensions)
  • Additional costs associated with replacing missing materials, tools, or equipment.
  • Schedule impact of replacing items, reporting and insurance claims
  • Higher insurance premiums
  • Client dissatisfaction and possible loss of future projects

When it comes to recouping losses, insurance companies often take weeks or months to pay out the cost of stolen goods. The time involved in replacing said goods may contribute to additional project delays, the cost of which may be as high as $27,750 per day in liquidated damages and overhead, according to a study by Navigant Consulting

No matter how you look at it, it’s clear that theft prevention is essential for every jobsite.

Ways to protect against jobsite theft

The low rate of construction goods recovery combined with the increasing rate of theft means jobsite security is no longer optional. While some thefts are premeditated or the result of organized crime, others are thefts of opportunity. Perpetrators may include employees who skim small amounts of materials for personal projects, teenagers looking for a midnight high or thieves who spot valuable goods and find an easy way onto the jobsite. 

Premeditated thefts can be much more impactful, with whole trailers full of tools, materials and heavy equipment gone in just a few hours. Taking measures to protect against jobsite theft is a critical step in ensuring a construction project stays on time and on budget. 

Here are eight of today’s theft protection best practices:

  1. Permanently Mark Tools

    People, for the most part, don’t want to buy or possess stolen tools, so thieves are less likely to take indelibly marked tools for resale. Employees are also less likely to steal items that are clearly marked and accounted for at the end of every shift. 
  2. Strategically Park Construction Equipment

    Deter thieves looking for a quick getaway by keeping the equipment locked when not in use and parking the equipment so that other vehicles or structures block them from being towed or driven off the site. When possible, keep equipment out of sight from opportunistic thieves or in a monitored location. 
  3. Install Temporary Fencing

    Temporary fencing with shade cloth can be a great deterrent for thieves because it prevents them from seeing what’s on the menu and makes entering and exiting the site more difficult. 
  4. Install motion-triggered lighting

    Thieves don’t want a spotlight on their criminal activities, and they certainly don’t want an audience, so motion-triggered floodlighting can scare them off effectively. 

For the other four best practices, read the full article.

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