Theft

GUEST ARTICLE: 1 in 4 construction workers robbed at work

  • 28 Mar 2024

A damning new report shows theft on building sites is surging nationwide, forcing a quarter of vulnerable construction workers to replace the cost of stolen tools as the country grapples with the cost-of-living crisis. This guest article explores the findings…

The Unseen Threats: 2024 Construction Crime Index from site security firm BauWatch interviewed 500 construction workers to understand their experience of crime. Shockingly, it found that small tools were the most commonly stolen item on sites, ahead of copper (36%), cable (31%), fuel (20%), and large vehicles (12%) – all seemingly more valuable items.

The surprising discovery showed that 1 in 4 workers have been left out of pocket after having to replace stolen tools, with the same number admitting that being robbed is their ‘biggest fear’ when it comes to onsite security at work. 7 in 10, meanwhile, admit to seeing theft on site as regularly as once a year – suggesting it’s endemic to the sector – with two-thirds reporting the problem has worsened in 2023.

Despite the obvious risk, over a third of workers claim security is a ‘low priority’ on sites they work on, with 17% of respondents citing budget restraints as a leading cause.

Theft

Break-ins increasingly common in light of slowing economy

Ben Hancock, Managing Director of Oscar Acoustics, which specialises in architectural acoustic finishes, says he’s had several vehicles broken into in the wake of economic strain.

“Thieves actively target white work vans as they think high-value tools are inside,” he says.

“We now have a policy of not leaving equipment in vans, even temporarily. That said, even if the crooks leave empty-handed, it’s still a headache, as we have to get the vans repaired and repainted, which will leave us a team down and negate project timelines.

“The costs to us go far beyond repairs, and the situation is so bad we now have an additional van in our fleet purely to cover break-ins.”

Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Policy and Market Insight at the National Federation of Builders, adds: “We’ve observed that, since the Government removed the construction industry’s access to red diesel, fuel theft has risen, as indicated by responses in this crime index.”

Firms need to protect staff – and resources

Firms don’t appreciate who they’re dealing with when it comes to site crime, says BauWatch MD Alexis Potter.

“We already know a lot of construction crime is the work of insiders or organised professionals, and at least 42% of workers we spoke to agree,” he says.

“While staff do have a responsibility to look after their kit, when faced with enemies like this, they need outside support. Given some workers report having to replace the cost of tools themselves, it’s worrying that they don’t feel confident about on-site security.

“It raises key questions about their safety, not to mention their morale, which is already a challenge for this sector.”

Annabel Hiatt, Hire Category Manager at Travis Perkins, adds: “Stealing materials and equipment from construction sites is not just costly and frustrating – it’s damaging to taxpayers and communities.

“With the rising cost of living, materials inflation, and darker evenings accelerating criminal activity, there’s never been a better time for construction firms to consider easily deployable security solutions.”

Deterrence is vital

The report urges firms to tighten security and includes best-practice advice on how to do that.

Alexis concludes: “Deterrence is key when it comes to theft, as once the damage is done it’s done. So things like CCTV, alarms, and fencing, should be in place.

“Clear communication and regular, systematic training help empower teams to safeguard construction sites. Most importantly, be agile, as threats are constantly evolving.”

The 2024 Construction Crime Index report can be downloaded here.

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