There’s a plague raging through our industry at the moment – and it’s nothing to do with the pandemic.
The chances are if you’re in in building or construction, you’ll be aware of how thefts from building sites are on the rise. The latest statistics from insurer Allianz Cornhill suggests that thefts cost the construction industry in excess of £800M a year. This is probably a conservative figure too, given that some thefts go unreported.
A survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Building revealed that 92% of respondents were directly affected by petty crime, with a whopping 21% stating that their construction sites were robbed on a weekly basis.
For contractors, it’s not just about the cost of the stolen materials. There’s also the cost of hiring or buying new equipment, the rise in insurance premiums and the knock-on effect of lost time and productivity. It’s not just the material theft, which is distressing enough, it’s also the livelihood theft. Without equipment it’s impossible to complete a job.
The thieves are crafty too.
Security on site is probably the single largest contributor to the problem, and thieves have worked out cunning ways to sidestep any troublesome security measures in place.
Fake number plates were used in one instance, and not just random fakes either. The thieves replicated the number plate of a legitimate contractor van, making sure that if their actions were questioned, they could ‘prove’ that they were simply removing their own equipment. This takes some nerve, but a high-viz jacket and hard hat seem to lure most people into believing that someone’s actions are legitimate.
And if you’ve ever had to haul scaffolding around, you’ll know that it’s hefty kit, so stealing it would take some planning, manpower and transport. It’s not an opportunistic strike such as breaking into a shed or garage in the hope of finding some valuable tools.
Why the upsurge?
The theft of vans and tools has been a common blight for years. But why is there now an increase in the theft of plant, materials and larger pieces of equipment?
It would seem that the shortage of new plant equipment, and longer lead times, has caused a surge in demand. Like any desirable commodity (look at the increase in dog thefts over lockdown for example) thieves are willing to take the risk when the pay-off is so high.
It raises the question though: who’s using the stolen equipment?
There was a case in Swindon of a man who used £40k worth of scaffolding, stolen from the company he was working for, to set up his own business. This is a particularly bold example, but it’s not uncommon for equipment from one business being used to fund another.
Other reports suggest that the metal is still being sold on for scrap to less scrupulous dealers. In 2013, to combat the rise in metal theft, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act brought in changes to prevent metal being sold for cash, making it harder to offload a stolen haul. Dealers now require a licence to trade and there has been a decrease in metal thefts since its introduction.
Can thefts be prevented?
Alarms and trackers are certainly a deterrent, but the most effective methods are sometimes just common sense. Having good lighting on site might seem obvious, but darkness is the friend of thieves and most of these crimes take place during the night.
Often though, as is the case with us at Swift, scaffolders are dependent on the security provided by the site they’re working on. Construction sites generally adopt perimeter security measures to control access, both for safety purposes, and to prevent damage, theft or vandalism. The key measure is controlling access, although as mentioned above, thieves were able to skip through checks by replicating a van registration plate.
Marking or painting equipment will help you to identify your equipment if its stolen, but will it prevent your stuff from being stolen in the first place? Making it widely known that your gear is identifiable could certainly help.
What can we do?
It’s a sad fact that construction site crime is often committed by people working in the industry. This means that responsibility rests with site supervisors, and if they take a strong line on site security by making company policy clear to everyone, they can help reduce the problem.
At Swift, we use state of the art theft prevention and detection compounds, and work closely with local police to recover stolen kit.
Educating staff on working practices and crime is part of our ongoing training programme too. If site staff are aware of risks and dangers more can be done to minimise theft.
What security measures do you have in place, and have you been affected by theft? Please leave a comment below if you’d like to share your experiences.
And, if you’re looking for a reliable, trustworthy scaffolding company in the Midlands, give us a call on 01543 473999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org