Thefts from construction sites are rising. Alexis Potter of BauWatch UK has some advice to help keep valuable equipment safe

We may not be in the grip of a recession quite yet, but these are undoubtedly tough times. And tough times lead to a rise in crime, particularly theft from construction sites which often lie empty overnight. The CIOB’s latest report on crime in the construction industry found that a fifth of sites experienced theft and vandalism on a weekly basis.

Alexis Potter

Alexis Potter is managing director of site security specialist BauWatch UK

The last available statistics on metal theft from sites showed 20,000 incidents reported, a 20% rise on pre-pandemic levels. With materials inflation at an all-time high this year, driving up the going price for these metals, we can guess that these figures are even higher today.

The last thing that construction firms want is to have to front the cost of replacing materials and equipment, not to mention the project delays and impact on insurance premiums. Just a few weeks ago, thieves stole thousands of pounds worth of copper piping and stainless steel from the site of a major care home project in Nottingham.

With that in mind, I have compiled some advice for ensuring that vulnerable sites are protected. 

Fail to plan? Then plan to fail

Managing theft after the wheels come off is incredibly short-sighted, expensive and simply leaves firms open to massive future risk. You need to embed a site security plan into your project from the outset.

Aim to carry out an honest risk assessment of your site as early as possible. Identify the blind spots where a break-in might be most likely to occur, and confirm where high-value items are located onsite, so that you can build in protective forces.

You must adopt a worst-case scenario outlook when creating your plan. This will ensure that you are fully equipped to deal with high-hazard, low-likelihood events, should they occur.

Communicate to your team

In a fast-paced project environment with complex supply chains, clear communication is the crucial starting point for a robust security strategy. Regular, systematic training is a must to empower teams to safeguard construction sites.

The importance of site security has to be clearly demonstrated to your team with a standardised site induction, and training records should be maintained digitally and physically. Each session should include a security angle, with informal toolbox talks at every site.

Keep it simple. Remind teams of straightforward best-practice measures like removing keys from machinery, storing them in locked boxes, and ensuring that gates are locked to prevent easily avoidable incidents.

Effective communication also extends beyond the site. It is vital for on-site workers to collaborate with off-site support from security providers, such as CCTV monitoring teams. Problems often occur when they are unaware that sites are vacant and opportunistic thieves strike. Adding to this, it is crucial that teams in the field make security providers aware of working patterns, especially when things change, to prevent false alarms.

Remember, it’s a constant evolution

All projects work on an evolving timeline. It is vital to consider the project’s threat level in the same way. For example, housebuilders wrapping up a project may have an increased number of fitting tools on site, as well as costly items such as boilers, creating additional risk.

To manage this, I would recommend adopting a traffic light system to evaluate each site. Red lets your team know that the threat level is high, whether that is because of easily lifted or valuable assets, multiple subcontractors and personnel on site, or something like a broken chain-link fence.

Be honest about your site security strategy and tactics. This way, when a plan is not working, you can respond.

It is important to stay agile, constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the threat level. For instance, firms might want to rethink their security around public holidays, when sites may be left empty and vulnerable.

Think deterrence, not defence

Remember, it is often as simple a game as deterring a potential break-in. 

Well-lit sites can act as an effective deterrent for criminals, so illuminate dark corners where trespassers might go unnoticed. Visible measures, such as CCTV towers and temporary fencing work, are also effective deterrents, as most opportunistic thieves will be put off taking spur-of-the-moment chances.

Use a range of tools 

Inevitably, we cannot plan for every eventuality, but we can be prepared to meet a broad range of them with confidence, provided the right tools are at hand. The great news is that, where previously tech for better site security was exclusive and expensive, there is now a wealth of options for firms to consider.

From digital key tracking systems to next-gen, 24-7 enabled CCTV systems, the question now is what tools fits your business, how to get the most out of them, and how these platforms can improve protocols.

Alexis Potter is managing director of site security specialist BauWatch UK