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Keeping what’s yours

Are thieves robbing you blind? Here's how to protect your jobsite


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October 1, 2013 by JIM BARNES

Theft raises your costs, lowers your profits, makes you less competitive and affects morale. Your equipment, tools, materials, appliances and other investments are all at risk—but there are simple steps you can take to protect them.

It is hard to get a handle on the dollar value of job-site theft. However, according to Pat Cowman, president of MicroDot DNA Technology Canada in Leduc, Alta., he knows one contractor that lost more than $500,000 worth of tools on a major infrastructure project.

MAKE A PLAN

Police forces, municipalities and insurers, among other organizations have published much useful information on jobsite security. Accountability is the cornerstone, the experts agree.

Make someone responsible for jobsite security and empower him or her to gather information and take steps when necessary. This person should report directly to senior management and liaise with police, as well as head up initiatives to work with consultants, neighbours and other parties.

Before each job, a written security policy should be shared with all stakeholders. Make it clear that theft will not be tolerated and thieves will be prosecuted. Create a list of key personnel who can respond in an emergency and share it with local police. 

Establish areas for receiving materials and lockable, on-site storage of tools. Everything entering or leaving your site should be logged. 

Signage is key and some of it may be mandated by the province. “No trespassing” signs not only discourage unauthorized visitors but also help protect you from liability related to injuries.

Other useful signs might include “Danger,” “Authorized personnel only,” and “Thieves will be prosecuted.” 

Invest in good fencing and keep access to a minimum. If you can’t fence the whole site, as with roadbuilding, at least fence in the high-value storage areas. Log all workers and visitors in and out. 

Use your locks and control the keys. Some operators do not, and it is all too common to find the keys left in a piece of heavy equipment. The person in charge of security should have a record of all issued keys. Unissued keys should be secured and extra keys should be kept to a minimum. 

Light the site effectively at night so passersby, including police, can easily see what is happening. Monitored cameras can let you know if someone is on-site without permission. 

Alarms will tell you when people are in restricted areas. Check with police on whether alarms can be routed to them automatically. 

Require employees to park outside the fence or in a special parking area to reduce the temptation and opportunity to steal. 

Be prepared to work with the police. Let them know your schedule. Ask them about recent thefts in the area and report any crimes promptly—your theft might be part of a pattern. 

Work with the neighbours. Check out the neighbourhood watch and post rewards for information about break-ins or vandalism. 

SECURITY 

The gold standard in site security is the security guard, but some contractors feel that this is too expensive a solution. It might help to think of that expense as a form of insurance. 

“I have seen a site that was completely gutted of copper,” says Brad Heise, owner of Dominion Security Services, London, Ont. The owner had called the firm a little too late. “All we could do was do our best to protect what’s left. If we had been there a month earlier, there wouldn’t have been a problem.” 

The same can be said for tools and machines. Once a machine has been stolen, the cost of a replacement and delays to the schedule might make a security service look cheap.

“No security, no amount of planning is foolproof,” says Heise. If somebody really wants to steal something, there is a good chance that they can. However, “By protecting property for the client, we’re making it very difficult for that to happen.” 

The largest security company in Canada is Commissionaires. It has stringent hiring processes and can provide guards with very high security clearances if needed.

It provides extensive training, including specific training on jobsite crime where required, says Jan Kwasniewski, director of client services, Commissionaires Great Lakes. 

As a large organization, Commissionaires offers an array of services… everything from preliminary theft risk analysis to employee background checks to supplying on-site guards. They can also provide investigative services to resolve recurrent problems. 

INSURANCE CONCERNS 

Your insurer is a key player. Growth in construction theft has led to increased claims, leading in turn to higher premiums and in some cases lack of coverage. 

According to Roger Keightley, commercial lines consultant, National Underwriting for Aviva Canada in Toronto, the basics of insuring against theft include: 

  • Property coverage protects property at the jobsite against theft and various disasters. 
  • Contractor’s equipment insurance covers mobile equipment and tools against most common risks. 
  • Builder’s risk insurance protects against the theft of materials, temporary items like hoardings, and covers the project itself as it is gradually completed. 

However, you should be aware of whether your insurance covers actual cash value or replacement value. Older equipment may be covered only for replacement value, and if it is old enough, that may be insignificant. 

Price fluctuations in materials and other costs during the construction period can have repercussions. Keightley suggests when you take out a builder’s risk policy, insure for a little more than the contract price to allow for escalation—say, a cushion of 10 per cent. 

Premiums are set individually for each risk that is insured, he notes. If the contractor has invested in good site security measures, that should have some effect in reducing the premiums. 

STRATEGIES 

Lumber, copper wire, drywall, tile, carpet and windows will all go missing if you do not track and protect them. Do not have materials delivered until you need them, receive them properly on arrival and secure them on-site. 

Tools are frequent targets of theft. All corporate assets should be marked, inventoried and tracked bearing the company’s name, as well as a tracking number of some kind. Tool storage should be kept locked at all times and a checkout system implemented. Staff should mark personal tools with an identifier, using stamps or etching tools. 

Tool marking has been around for a while. MicroDot, for example, has a marking technology that can be used with tools, equipment, vehicles and other items, explains Cowman. 

“In our program, every single tool has both visible and invisible markings,” he says. The effect is to deter theft and make recovery simpler. The tiny microdot tags are almost invisible but make practically any item they are applied to identifiable. 

That technology, in turn, led to the need for a database to track ownership of the various items.

“We created a system for tracking inventory,” says Cowman, which is now a loss-prevention service in its own right. When a client exports the data from its tool inventory into the company’s database, “That makes it traceable by law enforcement and private individuals,” he adds.

“Police recover tools all the time, but if the contractors didn’t keep track of the serial numbers, law enforcement can’t do anything,” notes Cowman.

Some tool manufacturers have addressed the problem, as well. For example, Hilti’s TPS (Theft Protection System) puts an electronic module in-side the tool. A company-specific theft protection code is set in each tool using a company card. Authorized users then use an activation key to unlock the tools electronically. 

Heavy equipment can be a magnet for professional thieves. Visible and hidden identifiers such as a die stamped code should be used in multiple locations on construction machinery.

Immobilization is another key tactic. When not in use, remove ignition wires or the battery and lowering buckets and blades. Immobilization devices can be applied to the fuel, hydraulic, and electrical systems. Wheel locks can be used on smaller vehicles, generators or compressors.

Many new machines now incorporate sophisticated GPS systems that can be used to locate the machine if stolen. As well, third-party radio or cellular transmitters can be applied to make retrieval easier and offer a deterrent to theft.

HUMAN FACTORS

“Many contractors don’t understand the internal aspects of loss. It’s a touchy subject,” says Cowman. It does not matter how well you know your workers.

Do detailed background checks on new hires. If someone has a history of theft, you need to know that. Drug screening, where permissible, might also help, both from a theft and safety point of view.

Employee attitudes are part of the mix. Most of your employees are inclined to be honest and do not like to see co-workers getting away with theft. At the same time, they are not comfortable talking to management about it.

Try to create an environment where theft is not tolerated and information can be volunteered anonymously—say through a hotline or Crimestoppers. Offer a reward for information. Your goal is not to catch thieves but to deter them from trying to steal.

Your jobsite does not have to be Fort Knox. It just has to be more secure than the one down the road, and give internal and outside thieves reason to think twice about trying to steal from you.

PROTECTING THE CROWD

A lot of non-employees want to get onto your jobsite: owners, engineers, building inspectors, architects, tour groups, media, politicians, kids taking a short cut… you name it. Few of them have training in safety or are fully aware of the hazards.

What is at stake if they are injured? Beyond civil litigation, the criminal provisions of Bill C-45 are a concern. It requires all persons directing the work of others to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the public as well as workers.

Various levels of government are putting more emphasis on public safety. For example, in June the City of Calgary began to require that public protection site safety plans be submitted concur-rently with building permit applications for work meeting stated criteria.

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job, says William Lin, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

“It sets out duties for all workplace parties and rights for workers. It establishes procedures for dealing with workplace hazards and provides for enforcement of the law where compliance has not been achieved voluntarily,” he notes.

“Although our jurisdiction is worker safety, our investigation findings may contribute to public safety as well,” says Lin. In some cases when a non-worker is injured or killed at a workplace location, the Ministry may still investigate in order to identify whether or not there were contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act that may have contributed to the incident. 

The government of Ontario recognizes that construction work on projects is often in close proximity to existing buildings and structures or roadways.

Accordingly, regulations require constructors to erect “overhead protection” within 4.5 m. of a public way such as a sidewalk, laneway, or other passage. The requirements are quite detailed for such covered ways that protect passersby from anything that might fall from a building under construction, including materials, tools and scaffolding.

If work on a project may endanger a person using a public way, a sturdy fence at least 1.8 m. in height must be constructed between the public way and the project, according to regulations.

In addition, machinery, equipment and material that are being used, left or stored where it may be a hazard to traffic on a public way must be marked by flashing devices.

All of the provinces have comparable regulations on protecting the public from workplace hazards.

On-site, the same tactics that help secure the site from theft apply to public safety. Know who is on your site and make sure they are staying in safe areas and wearing appropriate safety gear.

Fences and controlled access, signage and trained security guards may all be part of the mix. In the case of site tours, a safety plan should be developed that establishes escorts and the route. A site emergency phone number should be available. Adequate signage must be posted. Visitors must attend a safety briefing, commit to following the safety plan and wear appropriate safety gear.

Make sure that your subcontractors carry their own liability insurance, says Roger Keightley of Aviva. “That’s where we sometimes see gaps.”

Jim Barnes is On-Site’s contributing editor. Send comments to editor@on-siteamag.com. 



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1 Comment » for Keeping what’s yours
  1. Great tips. You can never be too careful. All too often, I find contractors simply fail to show up at a respectable time. So frustrating.

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