Construction Site Theft by the Numbers
One billion dollars. That’s the estimated annual loss from equipment theft on construction sites. And that figure does not include the value of stolen raw materials or loss of productivity from shutdowns and delays. The National Equipment Register (NER)—a service that facilitates information sharing with insurers, equipment owners, and law enforcement—pegs the average cost of a single instance of equipment theft at $30,000.
Big numbers. Big risk. Can you afford that? Can anyone?
If you’re not prioritizing construction site security, it will end up costing you at some point. Pay for robust security measures now, or pay insurance premium hikes and replacement costs later.
Real Cases of Construction Site Theft
Thefts are increasingly common and costly. Consider:
- A Middletown, Ohio contractor was left with $20,000-30,000 worth of damage after thieves stole his trailer and Bobcat
- A lone thief got away with more than $43,500 worth of raw materials and tools over a three-day spree in Concord Township
- Thieves managed to steal a $10,000 industrial generator that was bolted to a concrete slab at a building site in Missouri
- In Michigan, a thief drove a $165,000 Caterpillar loader off a construction site after driving there in another piece of equipment he stole earlier from a different site
- The Pikes Peak region of Colorado reported 250 instances of construction site theft worth $1.04 million in just the first eight months of 2021
- Thieves used the equipment present at a site in Texas to load and steal $75,000 worth of lumber
- Construction sites in Colorado Springs have partnered with Crime Stoppers to offer a $1,000 reward for information about thefts and vandalism
The list goes on. Invest now, or pay later.
Construction site theft statistics paint a pretty bleak picture.
The Most Commonly Stolen Items from Construction Sites
A construction site has a lot of valuable items lying around, from heavy equipment to raw materials and small tools. It’s a very tempting target for would-be thieves and burglars.
Lumber is a frequently stolen item. It’s hard to trace, easy to resell, and simple to load into a truck and drive away. Combine that with rising lumber prices—they’ve gone up by 300% since 2020—and it’s no surprise that thieves target this material.
Copper. The Department of Energy says that $1 billion worth of copper is stolen each year from a variety of locations, including construction sites. Beyond the value of the metal itself—roughly $3.64/pound at the time of writing—is the damage done as thieves rip apart buildings to get to the copper wiring and piping.
There is a thriving black market for both new and used power tools. These items are a breeze to steal since workers don’t always remember to put them away and lock them up. And thieves can easily resell them on platforms like Facebook Marketplace.
Heavy equipment theft can end up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. In a 2017 study, LoJack determined the top five most stolen equipment pieces to be:
- Wheeled or tracked loaders, including backhoes and skid steers
- Towables, including generators, light towers, and chippers
- Trailers and RVs
- Utility vehicles
Beyond the type of heavy equipment, NER found the most commonly stolen brands in 2016 to include:
- John Deere (2,420 reported thefts)
- Kubota (1,315)
- Bobcat (882)
- Cat (773)
- Toro (368)
The Impact of Construction Site Theft
Replacement costs can be substantial, of course. But that’s not the only impact felt whenever a build site is robbed.
Missing equipment and materials can slow progress down to a trickle, if not stop it altogether. You can’t install copper wiring that was taken the night before. You can’t build a frame if your lumber disappeared over the weekend.
Time is money in any industry, but especially in construction. Replacing materials and heavy equipment can take days, weeks, or more, depending on location and supply chain. If you receive progress payments at specified mileposts, a theft can interfere with your cash flow as delays bring everything to a standstill. What’s worse, contractors may need to pay out-of-pocket upfront and then wait for the insurance company to reimburse them. That’s a lot of financial strain.
Slowdowns increase time and budget. A theft may transition a job from profitable to unworkable as cash flow stagnates and “replacement value” may not cover the full replacement cost.
And even if the construction site has comprehensive insurance—and it should—a claim is going to increase those premiums, in addition to the deductible amount.
It should be noted that the recovery rate for stolen equipment hovers somewhere around 20% most years. In other words, there’s a good chance you’ll never see that equipment again.
Construction Site Theft Frequency
It’s too easy to dismiss risks as something that will never happen to you. But in construction, you’re more likely to be a victim of theft than any other calamity. Theft is a bigger risk than vandalism, fire damage, collision, water damage, flood, volcanic eruption, or earthquake.
The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) captured 11,574 reports of stolen equipment in 2016, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available. That’s a little more than 31 incidents per day.
Construction Site Theft Locations
Theft from building sites happens across the country and in every state. But it happens a lot more in some than others. According to the National Equipment Register, the top ten states for equipment theft are:
- Texas (2,375 reports in 2016)
- North Carolina (796)
- Florida (763)
- California (694)
- Georgia (577)
- South Carolina (512)
- Tennessee (449)
- Oklahoma (445)
- Arkansas (362)
- Alabama (338)
All but Alabama in the number ten spot averaged more than one theft per day during the year.
The top ten cities were all either in Texas (six out of the top 10) or Florida (three out of the top 10), with the exception of Oklahoma City.
Construction Site Security Measures
There is plenty you could do to protect your equipment, material, and site. Some security measures include:
- Register heavy equipment with NER, which has helped police recover over $12 million in stolen equipment in 2016
- Record serial numbers for smaller equipment and power tools
- Create a security plan and end-of-day security checklist
- Control access with fences, gates, and locks
- Ensure adequate lighting throughout the site
- Consider anchoring and other immobilization techniques
- Install alarms and surveillance cameras
- Lock up tools and keys at night
- Consider hiring security guards if your budget allows for it
- Install business security cameras with live security monitoring
Security with Deep Sentinel
Deep Sentinel combines HD security cameras, artificial intelligence, and live surveillance guards to offer unmatched security. It’s proactive protection that extends beyond the perimeter of your build site. Deep Sentinel is the only provider that can promise zero false alarms and prevention before the crime occurs.
Don’t become a statistic. Go with Deep Sentinel and keep construction going and profitable.