How to Prevent Theft on Your Construction Site

11 min

The construction industry loses around $1 billion per year due to construction site theft. According to experts, that number continues to rise annually.

In addition, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that only 23% of the stolen heavy equipment in 2014 was recovered. 

This isn’t good news. Whether you have a large job site or just starting on a smaller project, the last thing you need is to allocate extra funds to replace stolen equipment or deal with downtime or missing deadlines.

To help you combat this problem, we’ve put together a list of actionable steps that you can implement immediately to protect your equipment, materials, and overall job site.

Set Physical Boundaries Around Your Construction Site

It all starts with ensuring that your construction site has solid physical boundaries. Remember that construction site theft is often a crime of opportunity. Unfortunately, if your construction site is open with no walls or fencing, it provides the perfect opportunity for burglars to get in and out easily.

The key to getting started with construction site security is to reduce the opportunities to invade and steal from your site.

What does this involve?

1. Install Fencing or Strong Walls

When you install this physical boundary, look into having only one entry point, if possible. It’s also important to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed to enter. 

2. Use Good Lighting Around the Site

When your construction site lacks proper lighting, it allows thieves to enter, steal equipment, and leave, without being noticed. To prevent construction site theft, it’s essential to ensure that every corner of your site has good lighting. We also recommend that you install motion sensor lighting as a strong security measure.

3. Put Up Signs

Putting up “No Trespassing” signs around your site can also prevent non-authorized personnel from entering the premises. The number of signs you should install will depend on your state and if there are specific requirements. 

For example, some states prescribe that owners post “No Trespassing” signs on or near the property’s border, for every 500 feet, while other states don’t have this requirement. 

no trespassing sign for combating construction site theft

In addition to looking into your state’s laws, it’s essential to ensure that the signs are visible and that there is adequate lighting around the signs at night.

4. Use Strong Padlocks Made for Construction

There are many different types of padlocks. We recommend that you invest in strong, high-quality locks to prevent unauthorized entrance and burglary. Choose shrouded steel padlocks. These can help to block bolt cutter access to the shackle. It’s also wise to choose padlocks with boron steel shackles, with the largest diameter that still fits the area.

5. Regularly Check Your Site

It’s important to inspect  your site consistently for any potential entry points and address them as soon as possible before construction site theft occurs. 

This includes paying attention to fencing that might be falling apart, lights that don’t work anymore, and “No Trespassing” signs that might have been defaced or fallen off the fence.

Yes, this is a lot of work. However, when you look into the fact that this is all done to protect your valuable equipment and other materials on your site, this is all worth it.

Alarms and Cameras

Now that we have covered the physical barriers that you can install to prevent construction site theft, let’s look at some surveillance options like advanced camera and alarm systems.

Strategically Install a Camera Surveillance System

You should install your security cameras in such a way that they give you a clear picture of your entire construction site. For example, placing a surveillance camera on top of a crane will give you a birds-eye view of everything that is going on at the site.

There are various camera surveillance systems on the market. Even if your site doesn’t have power or electricity access yet, wireless camera systems can run on batteries or solar panels, and connect to the internet via cellular data networks.

This will allow you to connect to the camera via an app and monitor the site in real-time, or transmit the footage to cloud storage for later viewing. 

construction site surveillance system

Many surveillance system providers have their own smartphone apps that can trigger an alert if the cameras detect motion so you can respond immediately and alert authorities if necessary. 

Having visible cameras around your construction site will discourage intruders, who don’t want to get caught. If, however, they decide to take their chances and make off with some valuables, having a camera surveillance system will give you proper footage to take to authorities, which will improve your chances of catching the culprits. 

In addition to preventing construction site theft, camera surveillance can also help you monitor your entire team, so that you’re aware of productivity and any crucial matters about your job site. 

Install an Alarm System

A strong alarm system is invaluable to prevent construction site theft. Modern alarm systems are wireless and mobile, meaning they are relatively easy to install at critical points of your site and can be relocated when necessary. 

They are also sensitive to size so that they’re less likely to trigger false alarms if a small animal enters the site. Often, you’ll also have the option to disable or activate specific sensors remotely.

Depending on the system you choose, you can either get alerts to your smartphone or work with providers who assess the nature of the breach and alert either you or the authorities. 

Installing camera surveillance and alarm systems on your site can be costly upfront. For instance, when it comes to the camera system, you’ll need to pay for installing not only the cameras but also a monthly hosting fee.

Do some market research and compare prices, and consider the unique needs of your construction site. When you purchase a quality system, you can use it in any of your future projects, so look at it as a long-term investment.

Monitor Job Site Access and Maintain a Consistent Presence

When most people think of construction site theft, they tend to assume that outsiders are the only threat. Unfortunately, sometimes, team members can also be involved in this questionable behavior. 

It’s challenging to protect your valuable equipment and materials when dealing with an insider. Still, there are a couple of effective measures to help you reduce the chances of this occurring.

Maintain a Consistent Presence as a Manager

As previously mentioned, construction site theft is often a crime of opportunity. When some employees see that no one is keeping tabs on them, they can see this as a chance to grab some valuable items from your inventory. 

It’s essential to be regularly present on your site. When you have meetings, bring up some of your observations to your team. You can also comment on their progress and highlight any specific issues you’ve noticed. This lets your team know that you are watching them.

Security guards can play an essential role in helping you achieve this. It’s important to ensure that your security guards have proper training and are approved by a reputable body, like the Security Industry Association (SIA). You can also do thorough background checks on your security guards to ensure that you’re employing people you can trust.

Monitor the Job Site’s Access

It’s challenging to prevent construction site theft if you don’t know who comes in and out of your site. It’s crucial, then, to implement a controlled entry and exit system. This can include having employees swipe cards or tags every time they access the premises. 

Implementing this system will help you control both labor and other construction site visitors. Should theft occur on your site, it will be easier to know who was around on a particular day and time, and this will help narrow down who the culprit could be.

Invest in Anti-Theft Devices

Technology can play a significant role in helping you prevent construction site theft. We’ve already discussed a few basic measures like physical restraints and surveillance systems. But what else can you do to elevate your security? 

Use Transponder Chip Keys

For years, many equipment manufacturers used to mass-produce the same keys for their product lines. This means that one key could potentially start several different machines from that same manufacturer. 

In an ideal world, this is a great system – your operators don’t need to carry around different keys for the multiple machines. It’s also swift and easy to create duplicates and replace lost keys.

Unfortunately, this also means that it’s incredibly easy for thieves to steal your valuable machinery by getting a duplicate key. 

To help combat this, you can install a keyless ignition system. As the name suggests, operators won’t use keys to start the machines, but a unique PIN. Depending on your workforce and teams, you can give each team or even individuals unique PINs to use when they operate machinery. 

You can also program the PINs to expire after a certain period. If an employee leaves the company, it will also be easy to delete the PIN and replace it with another.

Another example of keyless technology are chip keys. Each machine gets equipped with an electronic reader so that only chip keys programmed into that machine can start the engine. You can even disable them outside of operating hours to prevent unauthorized use of machinery.

Fuel Cut-Offs and Hydraulic Bypasses

In addition to a keyless system, you can also install fuel cut-offs and hydraulic bypasses as an anti-theft measure. Fuel cut-offs help to make a stolen machine shut down. You activate this mechanism immediately after the operator is done working with the device, and they must always perform some steps to unlock it before operating the machine.

Secure Your Heavy Equipment

It’s relatively simple to keep an eye on your equipment during the day. But what happens at the end of the day when operators shut down machines, lock the gates, and night time comes? What about over the weekend when no one is there? 

For smaller parts, it’s no problem to lock them up in sheds or move to a secure location, but you also want to make sure your expensive, heavy machinery is equally safe at all times

construction site heavy equipment

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to create sufficient garage space to lock away all your heavy equipment at the end of the day, so it largely remains parked outside.

To properly secure your heavy equipment in such conditions, it’s essential to instill a security system that each operator must adhere to at the end of each workday. 

This system includes:

  • Lowering all the blades and buckets.
  • Removing batteries and steering wheels from machines and locking these smaller items up.
  • If possible, locking up oil and gas tank caps.
  • Parking all the heavy equipment in a well-lit place, so the camera surveillance has a clear view of it.
  • Tagging heavy equipment with metal tags, along with GPS trackers. Ideally, these should be drilled or welded to prevent them from being easily removed.

Understandably, this can be a lengthy process. It’s crucial to ensure that site supervisors are well aware of this system and enforce it at the end of each workday.

To further prevent construction site theft, you can register your equipment with the National Equipment Register. This service enables you to receive location reports transmitted via a small device installed on your machinery. This could be a valuable source of data for authorities if a piece of equipment goes missing.

Schedule Supply Deliveries on an As-Needed Basis

Purchasing your supply in bulk makes a lot of sense. There are fewer deliveries, less planning involved, and often less paperwork. But the problem with having your materials stay on-site for long periods without being used is that it invites thieves to take advantage of this opportunity.

The best thing to do is only to order supplies when you need them. Ideally, keep in stock what is needed for about a week or two, at most. 

Of course, there can be times when you want to order in advance for various reasons – perhaps there’s a sale or the material you need won’t be in stock in the coming weeks. In such cases, it’s essential to ensure that the materials are locked away with limited access or even better, completely off-site until needed.

Having fewer assets lying idle on your construction site means less worrying about what might get stolen and simplifies your monitoring and surveillance efforts.

Invest in High-quality Storage Sheds

There are always machines or tools that are too valuable to leave outside during the night or over the weekends. Of course, you can’t leave large equipment like cranes and bulldozers indoors, but you can store unused materials, smaller machines, and tools in specialized sheds.

However, not all storage sheds are created equal.

Metal sheds are much stronger than wooden. Considering how they will be outside, rain or sunshine, they will last much longer than wooden ones, which are more sensitive to different weather conditions.

construction site shed - storage unit

When choosing a shed for your construction site, check whether they come with security locks and what types of locks work best with the shed model. Some sheds come with included screen doors, window grills, window shutters, or locking bars for extra security. 

However, it’s also good to have opportunities for customization to ensure that thieves can’t easily pick or break a lock and gain access to valuables inside.

Besides the excellent security the material offers, metal sheds are much quicker and easier to disassemble and relocate than wooden sheds. So, if you need to move it, this won’t be a tedious process.

Label and Put Tracking Devices in Your Equipment

Labeling your assets so you can easily track it is essential if you have a lot of equipment on your construction site. You can use both high-tech and low-tech principles to help prevent equipment theft. Equipping your machinery with labels and tracking devices will help you identify it and make retrieval much easier if theft occurs.

Label Your Equipment

Properly labeling all your construction equipment is the first step in equipment management. If you don’t label your equipment, you won’t have an overview of all your assets, and won’t be able to detect whether an item is misplaced or stolen. Include your company’s information and the equipment’s PINs in the label information.

Choose durable labels that can withstand construction site environments. For example, for heavy machinery and equipment, it’s best to choose metal tags that you will weld or screw onto the machine. These are the most resilient and can handle tough conditions.

Put Tracking Devices in Your Equipment

In addition to labeling your equipment correctly, it’s also essential to put tracking devices in the equipment, particularly on costly ones. 

A simple and effective option is to use QR codes. They are a type of barcode that contains information about the item and is easily read by smartphones. Although they don’t feature built-in GPS trackers on their own, the device you use to scan them does. 

asset labeling and scanning

To scan the code on an asset, the asset and the reader need to be at the same place at the same time. So each time you scan the code, its location is automatically recorded and shared with a cloud-based asset management system.

Equipping your construction equipment with GPS beacons that periodically emit their geospatial location is an extra step you can take to protect your most valuable assets. This way it will be easy for you to track the stolen equipment and then send its last location to the authorities.

The best way to manage your equipment is through software systems. Once you have this information, you can then look into ways to improve the security of that specific site or see what extra measures you can take to help prevent construction site theft.

Tracking your equipment can also help prevent it from being misplaced. This is especially common when working with smaller tools. 

Act Now to Prevent Construction Site Theft

There is no single measure that will help protect your site from theft. You need to look at this as a holistic approach. As discussed above, you’ll need to:

  • Put in physical barriers around your construction site
  • Invest in surveillance systems
  • Restrict access
  • Install anti-theft devices
  • Secure your heavy and most valuable equipment
  • Strategically plan your deliveries
  • Lock materials and equipment in sheds
  • Tag and track on your equipment

Along with being a consistently present manager, these measures will all work towards ensuring that your construction projects continue smoothly without any delays due to theft.

GoCodes Can Help

The GoCodes asset management system can help you keep tabs on your equipment.

We use QR code tags with a unique visual code that you can scan with your smartphone. When scanned, GoCodes tags provide GPS information about equipment location, making construction site management a breeze.

Sign up for a free trial here

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