Combatting Construction Equipment Theft

While construction work in Maine goes on year round, spring marks the beginning of the season in the construction world, both for buildings and roads. Here at Risk Management we know each spring will also bring a number of equipment theft reports to our office.

The Problem: Theft of construction equipment is a national epidemic. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, as much as one billion dollars worth of construction tools and equipment is stolen nationwide each year and 90% of this amount is taken from work sites. Such losses increased by 64% between 1995 and 2001, and that trend is continuing upward at an alarming rate.

Governmental entities are not immune. Since 2001, state government has incurred a number of equipment theft losses. Just last year an excavator valued at over $50,000 was stolen from a state construction site. Beyond the loss of equipment itself, there are associated, uninsurable costs such as short term rental costs to replace the stolen equipment, project delays, and valuable time spent dealing with police and our office. Theft also drives up the cost of insurance premiums for everyone.

According to the National Equipment Register, equipment that is both mobile and high-value has the greatest likelihood of being stolen. Here is a chart showing the most commonly stolen types of equipment according to them. The “other” category includes such items as air compressors and generators.

pie chart showing thefts by type of equipment

Who steals? Sources of equipment theft are the public and workers, both former and present. Thieves are lazy people looking for an easy way to make money.

Why is equipment stolen? The answer is simple. The reward for the thief is greater than the risk. Heavy equipment typically has little physical (site or item) security, is valuable and usually easy to sell. There is a very low recovery rate as little as 10 to 15% is ever recovered. All this translates into a low risk for thieves.

Why is so little equipment recovered? There are many reasons. Many thefts occur overnight or over a weekend or holiday, so there is a time lapse from theft to discovery, impeding the investigation. There is usually no mandated registration system for off-road equipment and without registration or title documents, an owner may not have record of a serial number or product identification number - no unique identifier. To properly identify a piece of equipment requires a level of expertise which many law enforcement officers do not have. These kinds of investigations are frustrating, time consuming and usually produce no results, making them a low priority for over-staffed police departments.

Ways to Plan and Manage Theft Prevention.

While it may be impossible to stop all thefts, you can make it more difficult for thieves and you can improve your chances of recovery! Research shows that most thieves will not try to steal if they cannot enter the site, load the equipment, and be clear of the site in less than 10 minutes.

Establish a loss prevention policy and communicate it to all your workers and subcontractors. Hold your supervisors and workers accountable for their part in loss control. Such a program might include the following:

  • Establish an inventory-control system for all equipment and tools.
  • Implement a documented check-out/check-in system for all tools and equipment.
  • Establish an “end of shift” security inspection protocol.
  • Make unscheduled visits to work sites, including at night, on weekends and on holidays.
  • Lock and immobilize equipment during non-work hours.
  • Utilize basic key control and specialized locks. Locks should be placed on all vehicles, portable equipment, storage sheds, trailers and utility bodies when not in use. Use only high security locks: pick-resistant, case-hardened, or laminated steel. If a chain is required, it should be case-hardened and thick enough to prevent easy cutting.
  • Attach anti-theft devices, such as steering wheel locks, kill switches, tire and wheel/axle locks, locked hood side plates and locking fuel caps.
  • Where practical, all operating levers, handles, etc. should be locked in place under securely locked covers or lids.
  • Lock and protect equipment with an alarm system.
  • Avoid storing equipment overnight at the work site whenever possible.
  • In high crime areas and where values warrant it, consider hiring a security guard or using a surveillance system.
  • Fences are a good form of perimeter protection. Exits and entrances should be kept to a minimum. If it is not possible to fence an entire site, consider partially fencing it, including trailers, equipment and storage areas.
  • Good lighting is extremely effective in deterring criminal activities. Keep storage areas well lit and free of hiding places, such as shrubbery, trees eliminate dark areas. Consider using motion-detecting floodlights.
  • Contact the local police before starting a job. Ask them to include the job site in their patrols. Ask neighbors to report suspicious activities.

To aid in recovery:

  • Double stamp all tools, equipment and attachments with an identification number, one conspicuous and one hidden.
  • Display warning signs that indicate identification and serial numbers are recorded.
  • Paint your equipment with bright, easily recognizable colors to identify them from a distance.
  • Use aerosol-applied "microtaggant" thermostat plastic coatings that contain coded pigments or metal particles.
  • Stencil the State’s logo or other identifying marks on equipment.
  • Take photographs of your high value pieces catalog these photos and update them as equipment is purchased and sold.
  • Consider equipping each piece of high value equipment with tracking devices.

After a loss:

  • Secure the scene.
  • Make a prompt and thorough report to a police agency and to Risk Management Division.
  • Send theft alerts to equipment distributors.
  • Check E-Bay and used equipment sales for your equipment.

Remember time is not on your side!
Take action now to prevent equipment thefts.