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The typical construction site is an irresistible lure for thieves. Security is often minimal, valuable equipment and materials are left unattended for extended periods of time, and it can be difficult for would-be witnesses to differentiate acts of theft from the routine movement of equipment on and off site.

With theft-related losses estimated to be as high as $1 billion annually, and growing worse at a rate of 20 percent each year, it’s clear that criminals are taking full advantage. These crimes carry major consequences for all affected businesses, causing extended downtime and costly delays. But for small to medium-sized companies, the impact can be particularly crippling: Stolen equipment is only recovered in roughly 10 percent of cases, requiring major investment in new equipment, and causing a rise in insurance rates.

The theft problem is widespread—an estimated 83 percent of construction companies have experienced equipment theft—and well known, so why do efforts to curb it continue to fall short?

False Sense of Security

Advances in mobile security technologies have made it easier and more cost-effective to set up basic alarm systems and cameras around worksites. Many of these solutions can be integrated with mobile phones for improved worksite monitoring, making them relatively simple to implement.

But while these measures can be helpful, particularly for preventing theft of smaller materials like metals (a problem that has exploded in recent years), an often overlooked and misunderstood factor may explain why they’re less effective at protecting larger equipment: An estimated 60 percent of such thefts are inside jobs.

Seasonal workers nearing completion of their contracts have both the access and the knowledge of internal processes necessary to steal larger, more valuable pieces of equipment. And in many cases, they will coordinate with an outsider, making it harder to trace the crime back to them directly. As a result, resources invested in traditional security solutions may yield a false peace of mind when it comes to preventing the most serious varieties of theft.

Tracking and Organization

Given that the majority of heavy equipment thefts stem from internal issues, it makes sense that the most effective solutions will be internally focused as well. That’s why experts often suggest relatively simply measures, such as compiling a detailed list of all assets, including photos, and registering larger pieces of equipment with the National Equipment Register (NER).

Keeping detailed track of equipment accomplishes two major objectives: It provides  information that will dramatically improve the odds of recovering equipment in cases where it is stolen, and it sends a signal to employees that the company is keeping close track of operations, creating a sense of surveillance and security that will help discourage theft.

For companies that use maintenance management software, these asset lists are easy to build and maintain. Pictures and NER registration numbers can be easily added to asset records, and stored in one centralized, secure location for quick access via the web or a mobile device.

Asset assignment and tracking are also key. Knowing who was using an asset last is critical for accountability if something goes missing. Coupled with strong policies to address those issues when they arise, asset tracking can help solidify a culture of accountability and security.

Implementing a thorough preventive maintenance routine is another good way to improve asset tracking and security. By scheduling regular repairs, maintenance professionals can help monitor assets, report on their condition and alert management if anything is wrong.

Ultimately, there may be no silver bullet for the problem of heavy equipment theft, but by implementing basic tracking and accountability measures, companies may be able to mitigate the risk without having to invest in costlier security solutions.

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