Preventing Jobsite Theft
May 6, 2014
Costing the construction industry nearly $1 billion annually, jobsite theft is an industry-wide epidemic that affects everyone from building owners to general contractors to contract glaziers, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau and National Equipment Register. While high-ticket items are not typically an issue for glaziers—who deal instead with stolen tools and metal—jobsite theft can have significant financial effects. In addition to the direct costs of replacing stolen goods, there are indirect costs in the form of increased insurance premiums, project delays and lost productivity.
Cory Philippy, project manager at Clifton Architectural Glass and Metal, has experienced delayed schedules and fines due to theft on the jobsite. “Obviously, missing curtain wall and storefront material can ruin any job for all who are involved,” he says. “But even missing hardware, tools and ladders will delay installation. The snowball affects every other contractor behind you while they wait for you to finish your product. Back charges for site delays have occurred because of loss of time due to stolen materials and tools.”
In general, thieves target any items that can be easily removed and resold, including tools, building supplies and scrap materials like aluminum and copper, glaziers report.
Along with metal, “small cordless power tools such as drills, impacts and screw guns rank at the top of the list, followed then by the corded items,” says Brian Filipiak, president of Alliance Glazing Technologies. “[Like metal], these can be sold fairly easily at flea markets and online.”
Philippy has seen the same items stolen, but notes a shift in the trend. “Most of the time, the guys are missing tools like screw guns, suction cups, sheet rock dollies, small hand tools; even ladders and lasers,” he says. “But during the past year, we have been noticing more of the actual building materials like silicone, stainless steel, shims, tape and some floor closers [being stolen].”
The burden on subcontractors
It would be helpful if general contractors set up a secure fence around the jobsite, or established procedures for securing the site at the outset of a job, glaziers say. Some GCs do take on this responsibility, while others don’t, says Bryan Bush, owner/vice president of operations of City Glass Co. Jobsite theft can cause project delays, giving GCs all the more reason to get involved, Bush notes. However, “[while adding security considerations] to a contract would be nice, we’re still coming out of the environment of ‘the cheapest guy gets the job.’ Added overhead on a bid might get you second place,” he says.
Contract glaziers often have little recourse when it comes to jobsite theft. “Typically, items stolen are less than the insurance deductible and less than the builder’s risk deductible,” Filipiak says. “It’s hard to make a claim on $600 or $700 worth of tools because the deductibles are so high.” He also notes that police in a jobsite area aren’t necessarily as motivated to track down stolen tools as they are for bigger crimes.
And, the monetary cost of theft is just the beginning. The cost of delayed schedules has longer-lasting and farther-reaching ramifications. “With the economy where it has been for a while with limited work and lower than usual margins, it’s hard from a cash-flow perspective,” Filipiak says. “[Thieves] might steal a part that needs to go in first—seal starters, anchor plates—and that creates a significant delay that we’re responsible for. General contractors are fairly understanding, but they expect you to replace materials as quickly as possible.”
Tips for prevention
Putting procedures in place to ensure a safe and secure work environment is crucial to preventing theft. According to police reports, 90 percent of jobsite thefts occur between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday. Training employees to safeguard tools and materials on the jobsite during the week will help to keep the site more secure after hours.
Philippy says Clifton started using an equipment order sheet to keep track of the use of scaffolding, sheetrock dollies, special drills, etc., with a duplicate form for the project manager, warehouse manager, field workers, building owner and delivery personnel.
Bush says his company has used Conex containers over the past 10 years to safely store materials and equipment on jobsites.
Filipiak advises companies implement an incentive program to involve employees in theft prevention. Offer a small bonus or gift card when nothing has been lost or stolen on the jobsite, he suggests.