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Heavy Equipment Theft on the Job Site

Contractors know the full financial repercussions of construction site theft. They have to fill out the loss reports, file the insurance claims and make the purchases to recover what was stolen, so they are acutely aware of every dollar lost to thieves.

It’s often assumed the little things are most frequently taken. Hand tools, smaller equipment and materials can be easily concealed as thieves walk off the job sites. Conversely, large items are thought to be targeted less frequently because they are just too difficult to remove without being seen.

That’s not always the case. If thieves are resourceful enough, they can make off with large equipment with alarming regularity. According to statistics, thieves are doing just that.

The Frequency and Price of Theft
The National Insurance Crime Bureau, along with the National Equipment Register, reported that 11,625 heavy equipment thefts were reported to police in 2014. That is a 1.2 percent increase from 2013.

To make matters worse for contractors, the report stated that only 23 percent of heavy equipment stolen in 2014 was recovered. The number of thefts and the low recovery rate means contractors are having to spend quite a bit of time working with insurance companies to recoup their losses.

So how much does that add up to? Construction Equipment Guide puts the annual cost of heavy equipment theft between $300 million and $1 billion.

Contractors and heavy equipment manufacturers are put in a bit of a trick bag when it comes to protecting their investments. David Shillingford, president of the National Equipment Register, said that contractors have asked manufacturers for equipment that employees “can jump on and start up,” according to Construction Equipment Guide. To accommodate, manufacturers have designed ignitions of large equipment, such as front loaders and backhoes, with universal keys.

So if thieves can get hold of such keys, starting up the equipment and transporting it off a job site is much less difficult.

“It’s unfair to criticize manufacturers,” Shillingford said. “They respond to the market. However, a different key for each piece of equipment would make a difference.”

Smaller contractors may be particularly susceptible to heavy equipment theft. Common preventive measures to deter theft include:

  • Installing a chain-link fence around a job site. Contractors can take that measure a step further by installing barbed wire atop the fence.
  • Station security guards to patrol the site, especially during off hours.
  • Installing security lights to illuminate the site at night.

While having security personnel patrolling a job site during off hours is often an effective deterrent to crime, smaller contractors may not be able to afford it. Security is especially important in cases where the job site is in a relatively remote location. In those situations, without security, it may not be at all difficult for thieves to gain access to a site and get away undetected.

The NICB has another set of measures for contractors to take, specifically with heavy equipment in mind:

  • Install a fuel shut-off system.
  • Use hydro locks so that equipment steering is locked in a position that prevents it from traveling in a straight line. This makes it difficult to load equipment onto flatbed trailers.
  • Use sleeve locks on backhoe pads so that they are in the fully extended position. This lifts the backhoe’s wheels off the ground and makes it especially difficult to move.
  • At the end of each workday and on weekends, remove circuit breakers and fuses.

Heavy equipment is often stolen so it can be scrapped for parts. The NICB also recommends creating a photo archive and list of PIN and serial numbers of parts. It’s also a good idea to engrave equipment and its parts with the company name or some other type of identifying mark.

How Portable Storage Can Help
Construction projects cannot remain on time and on budget if theft is rampant on the job site. Having the right kind of secure storage containers allows contractors to protect their investments and deliver to their clients. With its patented Tri-Cam Locking System, Mobile Mini provides portable storage units with interlocking bars that secure the top, bottom, and sides from the inside. While contractors may use their own type of lock, Mobile Mini’s ContainerGuard Lock, which is made of hardened steel and features a six-piston tumbling system that resists pulling, prying and drilling.