Back in 2013, the insurer Allianz Cornhill released figures that estimated the annual cost of theft from UK construction sites at £800 million. The statistic has been widely quoted since then but, with the advent of the Covid pandemic, it looks as though the situation has only worsened.
By 2018, Allianz was reporting a 55% increase in plant theft compared to the 2013 figure, with some claims costing at as much as £650,000 for a single incident. Now, with many parts of the country in lockdown and more sites left vacant or with skeleton staff, numbers are rising even further. Earlier this year, Construction Enquirer magazine reported that “plant and tool theft rates have soared by an estimated 50% during the Covid-19 crisis.”
The reasons are easy to appreciate. Even before lockdown, criminal gangs had specialised in stealing from construction sites. This year, with many projects suspended and construction teams shrinking to accommodate safe social distancing, more sites and equipment are being left exposed. For opportunist thieves, 2020 is being described as ‘open season’.
Securing Construction Sites
Numerous police and security industry commentators have listed practical steps that site owners and managers can take to reduce the risk of theft. Examples include:
- Completely removing plant, equipment and valuable supplies from site (i.e. where a site is likely to be left unattended for any length of time)
- Failing that, securing valuable materials in a robust and lockable storage building
- Storing other materials in immovable containers (e.g. blocked in by plant or heavy piles of building materials)
- Security-marking all equipment
- Installing detection and deterrent measures such as improved lighting and CCTV
A recent report by North Yorkshire Police focused on an arrest made on 24th September 2020, when a van driver was found to be transporting a haul of stolen construction tools and machinery. Commenting on the incident, a police spokesperson said: “Building sites and compounds, particularly those in rural areas or isolated areas, are, by their nature, vulnerable and attractive targets for criminals”, adding that it is therefore “important to take extra security measures.”
The article listed additional options such as fuel cap alarms and cages, and noted that “even simple techniques like ‘defensive parking’ – parking vehicles close to solid objects to prevent access – can have a strong deterrent effect.”
Passive measures such as these can help to deter casual opportunists, but they are unlikely to thwart a determined criminal. More effective construction site security typically demands a ‘boots on the ground’ approach.
Manned Security on Construction Sites
Using professional security personnel offers some obvious benefits. First, staff act as a visible deterrent. Second, their ability to patrol and investigate any issues introduces an element of unpredictability that measures such as CCTV cannot. For example, a criminal can look for blind spots within the coverage of cameras and fixed lighting, but that’s much harder when on-site staff are making random patrols.
Experienced security staff can play an additional preventative role by checking a site for risks and vulnerabilities. Some, such as unlocked doors, they may be able to address immediately; others they will promptly bring to the site manager’s attention to ensure the problems can be addressed at the earliest opportunity.
Site Security Planning and Advice
A reputable construction site security company will offer a broad range of services, but requirements differ according to a site’s size, location and other variables. Security solutions should therefore be tailored accordingly and, to make that possible, it’s often a good idea to consult with a security specialist before the first vehicles arrive on site.
By engaging early with a security specialist, you can ensure that security provision dovetails effectively with other important considerations such as vehicle access and traffic management plans, public safety measures, site-specific risk assessments, signage and site waste management plans. It’s generally far more cost effective to make security part of the plan from the outset, rather than having to adapt other operations retrospectively.
Good security advice can also be important when planning risk mitigation measures. Fire safety and evacuation planning are issues that fall comfortably within the remit of a site security adviser, so don’t regard your security provider purely in the context of preventing vandalism and theft.
There are many situations in which construction operations can cause disruption and inconvenience to local residents and businesses. This gives rise to areas of potential conflict, particularly if they involve issues such as noise, dust, waste disposal, parking and traffic congestion. Schemes such as ‘Considerate Constructors’ provide a useful framework for managing such risks, but a visible security presence can also be a useful force for good.
Take, for example, a refurbishment project involving occupied housing. The presence of scaffolding and ladders close to residents’ homes could be a cause for security concerns, while the nearby presence of plant, equipment and large piles of materials can often attract the attentions of curious children. In both cases, having vigilant security staff on site can help to alleviate residents’ concerns and prevent a range of health and safety risks.
Having friendly, approachable security staff on site at night and during periods of inactivity also helps to assure local people that your business takes their wellbeing seriously. Staff can be a means to build better community relations, improve the flow of information and show people that all parties are working together to build a better neighbourhood.
Site Security Services: a Summary
Construction site security is about far more than simply preventing losses due to theft and vandalism. A reliable security specialist will offer a host of capabilities. You probably won’t need all of them, but it’s worth being aware of the various elements that can go to build an effective site security package.
Site Security Design
A security adviser should be able to offer clear, practical guidance on issues such as perimeter fencing, lighting, CCTV coverage, storage facilities, signage, public safety, fire safety risks and so on.
If CCTV monitoring isn’t performed by a specialist agency, security staff can make this task part of their roles. Used proactively, it can help to identify risks and prevent them from escalating into serious incidents.
Some larger sites feature a perimeter gate with a permanently manned office and 24-hour barrier control. Guards stationed at key entrances are a visible sign of security being taken seriously.
Vacant Building Security
Security staff can also be assigned to protect buildings of all kinds, whether they are new-build properties close to completion, or whether they are being stripped out prior to refurbishment or demolition. In addition to protecting against criminal actions, security staff will also deter intrusion by people who may be vulnerable and who, by entering a construction site, could put themselves at serious risk of harm.
There’s no substitute for having a 24-hour presence on site. Staff patrols will act as a strong deterrent and should also enable the rapid discovery of any security risks and vulnerabilities.
For smaller construction sites that don’t necessarily justify a full-time presence, it can be helpful to able to call on a security company when responding to an alarm or other incident. With an ‘accompanied attendance’ service security staff are available on call to accompany whichever member of the construction team is assigned to responding to such incidents. This is particularly valuable whenever there is a chance that an intruder might still be on site.
Find Out More
Construction sites present a wide range of different, location-specific challenges, so there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all security solution. Devising an effective, cost-efficient strategy requires planning, experience and careful thought. However, given that building sites are such a clear target for criminals, and given the scale and prevalence of their activities, good security has never been more important.
For advice about security planning, training or on-site support, please call us on 0800 035 6607. Alternatively, send us any questions via our enquiry form.