Construction site theft is a major issue, with targets of theft ranging from materials to equipment of all shapes and sizes. As theft is a crime of opportunity, it is often done by employees, and construction sites are no different. But before we dive into all the details, explaining the “how”, the “why”, and how to prevent construction site theft, we need to provide a little background for perspective on how the building blocks of our everyday life came to be.
Urbanization and the Building Boom
Urbanization is the process of converting more rural areas into city-like expanses. This also refers to the process of more people moving to bigger towns and cities which, in turn, inevitably leads to further urbanization.
Since the 1950s, the urban population has risen six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion as of 2018, and this trend doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. It is estimated that by 2030, the number of people living in urban settlements and cities of all sizes, including megacities, will reach over 5 billion. In 2009, the global urban population eclipsed the rural population, meaning that more people live in cities, rather than rural areas.
With such an upward trend, construction has also seen an astronomical boom to provide the required infrastructure. With billions on the line, the last thing the industry needs is an increase in theft (especially in a post-COVID world). Understanding the scope of the issue of construction site thefts is imperative if you’re to know how to prevent it.
The Scope of the Construction Site Theft Problem
Now that we know what’s at stake, we can safely conclude once more that construction site theft is a very big problem, albeit a multi-faceted one. To put it in simple terms, it presents a low-risk, high reward type of situation for potential thieves, and it is a worldwide concern.
The cost of individual equipment items, which can range anywhere from $12.000 to $150.000, doesn’t alleviate the issue either. Take into account that some materials can also be a lucrative target for thieves and the potential financial loss is no less than gigantic.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the total sum, the National Equipment Registry (NER) estimates that the value of stolen equipment is - you might want to sit down for this - anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion, yearly. And that’s just the estimate for stolen equipment value, the stolen materials might inflate the number even further. That, and the fact that less than 25% of stolen equipment is successfully recovered, make for a very serious issue.
To make matters worse, construction site theft can incur a loss of productivity, additional costs tied to renting replacing equipment, and delays in construction which in turn amount for considerable penalties unless there’s some sort of a guarantee in place. Then come the insurance premiums that come with reporting the theft to an insurance company.
“Well, if the ramifications are so big, how come we haven’t solved it by now?” We asked ourselves the same thing, and we found out that it’s just not that easy. But, there are ways to prevent, rather than “cure”. More on that later.
Why Construction Sites?
Construction sites make for relatively easy targets. The sun goes down, the crew goes home, and all that’s left is thousands upon thousands of dollars in the form of equipment and materials. But, astonishingly, that doesn’t always make for ideal grounds for misdeeds, and in some cases, the problems start much earlier.
Two’s Company, Three's a Crowd, Hundred’s A... Construction Site?
The usual environment on a construction site during the day is hectic, to say the least. They’re jampacked with subcontractors, workers, and the like. On average, about 22 workers are needed to build an average house. Scale that up to bigger projects, and you’ll end up with more than you can count.
Even if you have impeccable memory, there’s no way you would be able to remember all the faces moving about. Sometimes, employees use that chaos to slip certain objects among their personal belongings, but they also have plenty of time to vet the site for further mischief.
Sites Are Often Improperly Secured
With all the other expenses, construction site managers often skim costs on security. A proper security network can be very expensive, as the cost of keeping a single guard on site can go upwards of $10.000 monthly. Don’t get us wrong, that would be money well spent, except it doesn’t always end up being spent and ends up creating a risk factor.
Proper security fencing does provide relative safety but seeing as the potential thieves already have access, as per our previous point, they might end up finding ways to bypass any sort of barriers given time. If all else fails, and if they’re bent on stealing a vehicle, for example, they might just end up flattening the fences altogether using heavy equipment.
The Equipment Itself Lacks Anti-Theft Measures
When it comes to vehicles, they’re rarely properly tracked and easily accessible. Doors on backhoes, forklifts, and sometimes even trucks, are often left open or have open cabins. Sometimes they don’t even have standard vehicle identification numbers and use one-key-fits-all ignition systems.
All of these factors make construction sites fair game for thieves and vandals, but...
Why Do Employees Steal?
We’ve already established that there’s more than enough opportunity for theft on construction sites. The only thing that separates your average worker from an employee who has committed theft is the action itself.
We’re all prone to thoughts of retaliation when we think we’ve been wronged, even when there’s insufficient ground for such notions. The employee can also end up thinking that they can’t be caught due to lax counter-measures or that the company can simply afford to lose equipment due to them being much richer than its constituents on the ground.
Overworked and Underpaid
Construction workers are on the lower spectrum when it comes to average annual salaries. Even though such a line of work requires a lot of physical effort and exertion in general, labor is not always properly compensated - sadly, it’s just how things are. For some, this can prove to be ample motivation for turning to crime, most frequently larceny, and the first target often is the workplace.
“The Employer Can Afford It”
Another justification for construction site theft is thinking that the company or the contractor has plenty in the way of finances while on the other hand, the employee has less than enough. This attitude leads to developing a belief that the stolen objects can be easily replaced and that there won’t be many consequences. Speaking of consequences...
“They Got Nothing on Me”
This issue ties into improper security on the construction site. If the employee thinks that they can’t get caught, or that the theft can’t be proven via concrete evidence, they’re much more likely to commit theft. Simply put, lacking counter-measures are a huge red flag and provide ample opportunities for construction site theft and even if you’ve built a great company culture, it can attract outside factors to induce criminal behavior.
Construction Site Items That Are Most Commonly Stolen
You saw all the numbers and causes, but you might be thinking to yourself, “what equipment is that expensive?” or “which items are most prone to theft?”. Well, it entirely depends on the type of construction project, but the most commonly stolen items from a construction site are the following.
Smaller Tools and Supplies
This one is a no-brainer. If it’s small enough to be pocketed or to be hidden among an employee’s belongings, it’s more likely to get stolen. Unfortunately, such tools and supplies can be rather expensive, despite their size. Power tools, breakers, drills, transformers, and attachments such as hydraulic breakers, pulverizers, and cutters, are but a few of the wide array of smaller construction equipment present on a construction site.
These types of theft are also hard to notice since the potential thieves will tend to take only a single item at a time and the larceny might reoccur over an extended period of time. Although, if a whole collection of tools or supplies ‘goes missing’ at once, then it’s probably not the only thing that’s been taken.
Heavy Equipment and Vehicles
What really makes a dent in the budget and has severe consequences though, is larger equipment or vehicles. Even though these types of theft are not exactly ‘common’, they tend to cost thousands of dollars and such theft is often premeditated and done with a great degree of caution. This, in turn, makes the stolen items very hard to recover, unless proper security is in place beforehand. These can be smaller vehicles, such as quad bikes and forklifts, or large wheeled machines, such as excavators, trucks, and tractors.
Appliance theft is commonplace on residential construction sites. Construction projects, such as residential buildings or houses, tend to have a lot of household appliances on site, especially in the later stages. What’s more, there can be more than one blind spot in these types of environments and the stolen appliances can be discreetly moved around. Microwaves, ovens, refrigerators, and even water heaters, are usually delivered to the site during an ongoing residential construction.
Metals, Lumber, and Other Materials
Metals, such as copper, are among the most frequently stolen materials from a construction site due to their high value. Copper is often used as a roofing material because of its cost-effectiveness and resilience. It doesn’t deteriorate as quickly as asphalt and slate, making it a prime choice when building schools, churches, and even houses. Unfortunately, it can also be skimmed on and stolen.
Lumber is another material that can ‘evaporate’ bit by bit, just like copper and smaller equipment. Employees may end up taking it without any malicious intent, should they have other personal projects, and won’t even consider it stealing, which is another justification for the act.
The bottom line is that every material that’s on site in bulk, can very easily go missing bit by bit. Be it an important component, or a bag of cement.
How to Reduce Construction Site Theft by Employees
Even when you think that you’ve got all bases covered in terms of security, thefts by employees can still happen. The main ‘philosophy’ when trying to prevent them is to limit the opportunities and keep good relationships with the workers as much as possible. To put it in concrete terms, here are some practical examples.
Run a “Light” Ship
Lighting, lighting, and more lighting. Potential thieves count on remaining unseen and construction sites tend to not be in already well-lit urban areas. Grand thefts almost always happen during off-hours and at night, so make sure you keep the lights on in such instances - no exceptions. If an employee is aware of the fact that you’re doing this, they won’t even entertain the idea to undertake heists.
If You're a Manager, Be There (Or Have One Present)
Yes, foremen can supervise the workers, but if you let your employees know that you’re observing them, you’ll come off as engaged and boost morale. Nothing works better in building strong relationships such as going through hard work together.
We know that this can be unfeasible for some, but in smaller projects, you’ll surely get to know everyone better and take note of those who are more likely to steal. What’s more, employees are much less likely to steal if they respect you, and they certainly will if you take interest in them as people, not as subordinates.
Take Care of Inventory and Supply Deliveries
The most common ‘mistake’, even though it’s sometimes unavoidable, is to keep large quantities of supplies on site. Although it is frequently necessary to have all the materials in bulk, try to schedule supply deliveries on an as-needed basis.
This, in turn, will let you have a concise overview of all the items on the construction site and leave a “paper trail” for all your supplies. While you’re at it, you’ll be able to take inventory of all the equipment as well.
Although the options we suggested will most definitely help in discouraging construction site thefts by employees, there are also some more hands-on solutions available. SpyGuy has the answers to your construction site security problems while providing fast & free shipping and sales tax-exempt products.
Should you want to ensure that stolen heavy equipment or vehicles always get recovered, and not just 25% of the time, you ought to acquire some of our GPS tracking devices.
Additionally, surveillance methods such as regular CCTV cameras can’t always cover all the blind spots and covert recording options, such as spy cameras will go a long way in improving construction site security.
GPS Tracking Solutions
Below are our best-selling GPS trackers. All of them are extremely accurate - down to the parking spot - while allowing for 10-second real-time location updates and provide you with text or email updates. The software in all the trackers provides geofencing options.
They only differ in terms of size, manner of attachment, and battery life. You’re free to choose whichever works best for your fleet or equipment!
Outlander Real-Time GPS Tracker
The Outlander is a staple in our GPS tracking collection not only due to its amazing accuracy (that’s a given) but due to its reliability. As a standalone item, it offers up to 18 days of battery life, which can be further expanded to 80 days with the extended battery.
Furthermore, you would be able to view the location of the vehicle and track it in real-time via your iPhone, Android, or PC, as well as access the movement history. For easier attachment on vehicles, you could also get the magnetic case.
Recon 4G LTE Real-Time GPS Tracker
The Recon a GPS tracker that works via 4G LTE. Its peculiarity is its tiny size and the built-in magnets. It’s also IP66 waterproof rated.
You can access the GPS tracker in real-time via your Google account (on any device) since it’s powered by Google Maps. You can also see the entire movement history. The rechargeable battery lasts up to 15 hours, but it’s used only when driving.
JetSet OBD Port GPS Tracker
If you don’t want to bother with batteries and you’re looking for a plug-and-play solution, then the JetSet OBD-connected GPS tracker might be your pick.
It has all the useful features of the previous trackers, but it’s connected via an OBD port. The port provides power to the tracker and as long as the vehicle is running, you’ll be receiving real-time updates on location and movement.
Commuter Hardwired GPS Tracker
Lastly, we have the Commuter, which is a hardwired GPS tracker. It can be hidden practically anywhere and it doesn’t need batteries due to drawing power directly from the 12-volt battery within the vehicle.
It also offers 10-second real-time updates, and live monitoring via iPhone, Android, or PC.
Video Surveillance Options
Our wearable camera collection has the tools to arm the on-site supervisor with a preferred ‘third eye’. Some of our products, such as the Phone Mount for Car Camera, can also be placed within vehicles and serve as dash cams.
Other more stationary solutions will provide covert recording for the warehouse or other places of importance on the site. You can never have too many cameras and common blanket solutions, such as CCTV cams, sometimes just aren’t enough.
SpyGuy Works With Companies Too!
Even though SpyGuy is a small company, we can provide you with all the services that the big guys can’t! Lower prices, lifetime tech support, warranty, and free shipping are but a few benefits when buying from us - over 60.000 satisfied customers (including Fortune 500 companies) seem to agree.
Should you have any thoughts on our extensive coverage of construction site thefts by employees, feel free to share them with us. We also answer any questions regarding all of our products - send us an email or call directly.