Many an opportunistic thief has cast their parasitic gaze over the empty expanse of an unmanned construction site. If the right preventative measures are not in place, expensive tools and machinery (even copper when the prices are high) will disappear overnight, with little project managers can do but make a police report and order more supplies.
Just last month, a syndicate of thieves specifically targeting construction sites was brought down in America. Within the same week, an Aussie couple were caught doing midnight stealth raids, headlights off, on building sites around the Lake Macquarie area. Both sets of pilferers were denied bail and charged with a string of offences.
The sanctions for thieving are severe for those who get caught. However the lure of expensive tools and machinery seems too great for many people, with construction site theft accounting for losses in the millions for the industry as a whole. Which is why it’s important for companies to have visible and powerful strategies in place to keep thieving humans honest when they lack the willpower to control themselves.
Statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology show less than 50% of theft is reported to the police, so it’s difficult to put a precise dollar figure on it. However, research from the Construction and Mining Industry Group (CMIG) suggests the total industry losses are around $50 million a year across the nation.
The thing is, it’s not just the assets that are lost. Projects get delayed, additional labour is often required, unplanned equipment hire costs incurred, and insurance premiums blown out. With such a lot at stake, we’ve consulted the police, criminologists, insurance companies, construction companies and contractors to bring you the best strategies for preventing theft and keeping your valuable machines safe.
1. Take advantage of the latest tracking technology
As you would’ve seen in the video above, Australians now have access to some cutting edge theft-prevention technology. The most exciting innovation we’ve come across is DataDot, a company that gives your machines (and almost any asset you can imagine) their own unique DNA print. The technology involves peppering the machine with tiny data-filled dots which are invisible to the naked eye. DataDot explains:
“It is conceivably possible to remove the thousands of microdots (DataDots) applied to an item but would be totally cost ineffective to do so. Just one tiny microdot has to remain for an item to be identified as stolen. The risk of thieves getting caught with a DataDotDNA protected item is significantly increased.”
The company approaches theft prevention from all possible avenues including:
- Unique, undetectable asset tagging with DNA microdots;
- Secure PIN registry for every asset registered;
- Stickers and overt methods to alert thieves that your assets are protected and not safe to steal;
- Co-branding with CrimeStoppers to add a stronger level of deterrence;
- Training measures with police, scrap metal shops, and other relevant stakeholders so they know how to work with the technology and get tagged property back where it belongs.
Measures like this are invaluable for everyone from onsite workers and contractors, right up to site owners and project managers. DataDot’s strategic power lies in the fact that it focuses on prevention of theft while also providing real avenues of detection if an item does go missing. And the best security strategy is one that leaves you with all your bases covered.
2. Ramp up your site security
The one thing you can count on about thieves is that they don’t want to get caught. This makes them inherently cowardly. Create an environment in which the danger of being noticed is high and they’ll move on to another opportunity.
Remember the Lake Macquarie thieves? They kept their headlights off during their midnight stealing missions because light = visibility; and visibility is a thief’s arch nemesis. So make sure your site is always well lit. If you install security cameras, make sure they’re visible with signage and stickers around the perimeter of the site indicating the security measures in place.
3. Maintain a consistent presence on site
We hate to say it but not all construction site theft is carried out by errant members of the public. In fact, a report from CMIG suggests there may actually be organised crime gangs, run by people from the industry, targeting construction sites.
While you don’t want to be casting the dark shadow of tyrannical dictatorship over your site, it’s worth maintaining a regular presence and chatting to your workers. Make notes, track progress and discuss your observations. You can blend this approach in with your usual project management and tracking and use it as a positive opportunity to commend individual accomplishments.
You don’t even have to mention thieving to make this strategy work; it’s all in the psychology. People are so susceptible to the feeling of being watched, even just having a picture of eyes near an honesty box was shown to drastically reduce thieving.
4. Schedule supplies to be delivered as needed
The more you have on site, and the longer it sits there, the more tempting it is for thieves. Midnight raids are rife, particularly on sites with visible and accessible piles of cracker dust, top soil and lumber. Sadly, even if the theft is noticed by members of the public, bystander apathy and the desire to ‘mind your own business’ tend to stifle people’s willingness to contact the police.
This may be inconvenient; and will certainly require solid planning, tracking and communication to avoid project delays. However, it is far more convenient than having to pay the price—in time and money- of replacing stolen supplies and equipment.
5. Maintain detailed inventory records
Paperwork may not be the most enjoyable part of your job but its ability to help you in difficult situations is invaluable. As soon as any supplies or equipment hit the site, you need them inventoried. Your paper trail needs to map the path your supplies take through the site, from ordering, to receiving and implementing. This gives people personal responsibility for the equipment and supplies they use which has the double benefit of reducing the likelihood of employee theft and increasing the likelihood of workers adequately securing anything they’ve been working with.
6. Make your theft prevention policy known
Rather than vague concepts, its best to get your whole plan down in an official policy which makes the rules and consequences clear to anyone entering the site. This allows you to establish clearly what is and isn’t okay so there are no murky lines.
Can employees take scrap metal, off-cuts and waste? Is it permissible under any circumstances to borrow tools or equipment from site? These, and other murky grey areas, can appear like stealing to one person but completely acceptable to another. Making your rules clear and letting people know what the consequences will be prevents these slightly dodgy ideas from entering people’s minds as real possibilities. And it stops them from being able to offer the excuse of ‘I didn’t realise’.