To Catch a Thief: Crime prevention on construction sites

Shutterstock / JemaStock / Christos Georghiou
Shutterstock / JemaStock / Christos Georghiou
Published On
Nov 15, 2022

Every industry has felt the effects of crime, including the commercial and residential construction sectors. Unfortunately, thieves and criminals have increasingly targeted construction sites in search of tools, equipment and expensive building materials. Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken to mitigate the risk.

Theft and vandalism on construction sites cost contractors and insurance companies every year. Common items stolen include heavy equipment, machinery, vehicles, utility trailers, lumber, mortar mixers, drywall, copper, pipes, wiring and tile. Hand/power tools, appliances, furnishings, air conditioning units, carpeting, light fixtures and cabinets are also frequently targeted on job sites.

What can you do?

To protect heavy equipment, contractors should affix their company name underneath the serial number, weld it to the surface and die-cast on multiple other hidden areas of the apparatus. When it is not in use, the keys, ignition wires or battery should be removed. Theft-prevention devices can be installed to disable fuel, hydraulic and electrical systems. Additionally, wheel locks or immobilizers can be used on smaller vehicles, generators and compressors.

On commercial construction projects, managers should meet with law enforcement prior to breaking ground to exchange contact information and provide the police with the project’s scope and timeline. Managers can ask law enforcement to execute a crime prevention assessment of the job site. They may also consider advising law enforcement of delivery schedules on critical materials or any unusual activities.

According to the Canton, Mich., Police Department’s Construction Site Crime Prevention guide, “The general contractor or construction management company should designate an employee as the company crime prevention coordinator. This responsibility is often assigned to a VP for operations, safety director or risk manager. All construction site losses should be immediately reported to this individual. The company crime prevention coordinator should serve as the direct link or liaison with the local law enforcement agency.”

The designated crime prevention person should keep an inventory of tools and equipment on the construction site. It is important to match invoices and orders for building materials and tools to ensure that the proper quantities have been delivered and are accounted for. Quantities of tools and materials should be inventoried often.

Security tips

Commercial construction sites should be secured with perimeter fencing and have entry and exit gates, which should be locked and closed at night and on the weekend. During the day, access must be controlled and monitored for unauthorized individuals or vehicles. “No trespassing” signs should be displayed around the perimeter to reduce liability and communicate a warning that violators will be prosecuted.

Employers may consider installing bright lights, motion sensors, video surveillance equipment, alarms or other measures to protect people and property. For bigger projects, contractors might also consider hiring a private security firm. Employers can coordinate with neighbors and nearby businesses to increase vigilance on neighborhood watch and pool video surveillance if an incident occurs.

Not all job-site theft is committed by outsiders; often it’s an inside job. Therefore, it is important to keep a log of who is using what tool or piece of equipment and when. Additionally, keep keys to vehicles, equipment and the job site in a designated location and monitor them closely. Prevent unauthorized duplication by plugging the bow of the keys with rivets.

When not in use, secure company tools or equipment in storage sheds or keep them locked in vehicles or equipment trailers. Metal shields can also be used on equipment and windows to prevent break-ins. Personal tools and equipment can be brought off-property when not in use and should be engraved with a personal identifier.

Trash and empty containers should be removed frequently to ensure that these receptacles are not used to smuggle out tools, equipment or materials. Ideally, employees will be required to park off-site for the same reason.

Take extra precautions in areas used to house solvents or materials that are poisonous, explosive, flammable or otherwise hazardous, as these substances can be extremely harmful.

Finally, in the event of theft, vandalism or other crime occurring on-site, immediately report it to law enforcement. Provide the police with inventory or access logs, surveillance footage and other pertinent information. This may include any identifiers on stolen property such as serial numbers and company/personal names.

About the Author

tom o’connor

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at

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