Constructive Tips for Reducing Equipment Losses at Jobsites

September 3, 2018

If you live in a city or nearby one and see new construction projects popping up at a rapid rate, you’re not alone. Cities throughout the United States are experiencing a boom in construction. Optimism is soaring to record levels as more construction firm owners are confident the market is going to continue to grow, according to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America. The U.S. Commerce Department also recorded significant increases in spending in the commercial construction sector, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported the industry added 210,000 jobs in 2017, a 35 percent increase over 2016. While this is certainly good news, construction companies and contractors, both large and small, are increasingly faced with equipment security issues as a result.

The Inland Marine Underwriters Association’s (IMUA) Contractor’s Equipment Guide to Loss Prevention cited vandalism or malicious mischief (VMM) and theft as representing one-third of all loss dollars for contractors’ equipment. Why? Construction tools and equipment are relatively easy to steal and re-sell, compared with other types of goods.

Thieves prefer tools and smaller mobile equipment, such as trailered compressors, generators and lighted road signs, followed by medium-sized equipment (e.g. skid steers, small tractors and forklifts), according to industry experts. Excavators, back-hoes, bulldozers and other large machines, although costly to replace, are targeted least frequently due to the greater challenges thieves face in stealing and reselling them. Theft most frequently takes place during the weekend, and jobsites are the preferred location, as compared to company premises.

Management practices are as important as physical security controls in preventing theft.

With small and large commercial projects showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, tools and equipment are in high demand, and contractors may be inclined to ask fewer questions when purchasing used equipment, even if the deal seems too good to be true. It also has become easier in recent years to sell equipment outside the country, making it difficult or impossible to trace and recover stolen items. Add to this determined and increasingly sophisticated thieves, and the situation may seem discouraging.

On a positive note, there is a wide array of strategies available to combat theft and vandalism. These can be divided into three main areas: administrative controls, jobsite physical controls and equipment physical controls.

While it is unrealistic to expect small operators to implement every type of mitigation tactic available, there are many simple, low-cost prevention controls that can lessen the chance of loss.

Administrative Controls

Management practices are as important as physical security controls in preventing theft. Topping the administrative list is management’s commitment to theft prevention and zero tolerance for losses. Companies whose leaders adopt this philosophy are more likely to succeed with their loss prevention efforts because employees take them more seriously. Designating an individual with overall accountability for security and theft prevention, such as a site supervisor or operations manager, further reinforces this message.

Hiring practices, screening, reducing turnover and implementing substance abuse testing programs are very important tools in reducing theft, particularly “inside jobs” where dishonest employees provide the knowledge, skill or access to carry out criminal acts. Employee and visitor access to job sites should be carefully controlled and logged. Implementing theft prevention policies and procedures, and unannounced site visits and inspections by company managers, also can go a long way toward controlling the theft of equipment and tools.

Additionally, companies should consider including an educational segment on security and theft prevention during new employee orientations and annual refresher training. From an operational perspective, setting up a database to maintain accurate inventory records and registering equipment serial numbers with the National Equipment Register can accelerate recovery efforts and facilitate claims processing.

Physical Security Measures

Jobsite and equipment security controls go hand-in-hand. These are the “nuts and bolts” of a theft prevention program, tailored to specific geographies, industries and equipment types. To enhance security, owners should install fencing and gates to minimize access points and create well-lit areas throughout the jobsite.

Additional tips to deter criminal activity include: using high security locks and changing them frequently; mounting security bars and grates on office trailers and containers; posting “No Trespassing” signage; and requesting additional police patrols. A more expensive, but highly effective preventative measure is to utilize motion-sensitive video cameras and alarms that are actively monitored. These systems are connected to off-site facilities run by third-party security firms. Trained security professionals (in many cases, former law enforcement officers), receive alerts and can assess the situation in real-time, notifying police of a crime in progress or taking other appropriate action.

Begin with the most basic tactics to secure equipment of all shapes and sizes. All tools should be properly identified by engraving, die stamping or tagging, and should be painted a distinctive color. This will make stolen tools more easily recognizable and harder to sell quickly on the black market. Keeping tools locked in gang boxes or containers and securing small mobile equipment to fixed objects with chain, cable or welding also decreases the chances of theft.

Other effective prevention measures for small and medium-sized equipment include: marking with hidden VIN and serial numbers; removing or locking wheels and trailer hitches; locking fuel/oil caps, hoods and access doors; and using smart keys. Larger equipment can be protected by installing hidden kill switches, fuel shutoffs, track locks and hydraulic bypasses. Installing alarm systems and GPS tracking units on large equipment also can scare off would-be criminals or improve chances of recovery.


Implementation of these administrative and security prevention controls will not guarantee against theft, but it will make the company a harder target and reduce the likelihood of a major loss. Companies should continue to partner with local law enforcement, security consultants and industry experts to stay abreast of the latest technology and best practices to avoid theft. However, senior management’s commitment to making security and safety a top priority is the single most important success factor for achieving a loss-free operation.