A construction site presents numerous opportunities for costly criminal activity. The building or refurbishment of a property requires a considerable number of resources for any given site – and with increased resources comes a high number of risks such as theft, trespassing and vandalism to name just a few.
Additionally, the duration and complexity of construction projects can leave buildings unoccupied for extended periods of time. Empty builds are likely to attract vandalism and squatters if they are left without surveillance. A construction site goes through a number of phases – so the security needs of a construction site are actually dynamic and ever-changing as the project progresses. This poses additional headaches for site managers and owners.
With that said, it makes sense for the building sector to invest in site security to protect assets throughout the different stages of the project, yet, this asks an important question that site managers need to address: Physical security vs technology, which is better?
We explain below the pros and cons of each approach to help you find the right strategy for the protection of your construction site.
The need for construction site security
As mentioned, construction sites are often ripe for a number of crimes. Firstly, vandalism is an ever-present threat to construction sites. As a rule of thumb, almost 20% of sites in the UK experience some level of vandalism on a weekly basis.
Vandalism can range from graffiti sprayed on a wall to the intentional destruction of materials, equipment, or even building structures. It isn’t a risk construction site managers can afford to take as vandalism drives up costs and significantly increases building delays.
Unfortunately, vandalism remains a frequent occurrence on the majority of building sites. According to studies, 6 in 10 building sites will face damage and losses caused by vandalism weekly or monthly. In fact, 42% of vandalism-related damage will occur within a month, which will clearly affect project completion.
In addition, unprotected sites are frequently targeted by material and equipment theft, leading to replacement and damage costs. Theft and vandalism together are one of the leading causes of excess costs in the construction sector, leading to over £1 million losses every week. It comes as no surprise that construction costs frequently reach over 6 figures when you include the consequences of vandalism and theft:
- Prolonged labour costs
- Material and tools replacement
- Even clauses for contract damages
- Delays caused by injured trespassers
Weather conditions, for instance, play a significant role in the progress of the building site. Heavy rain, flooding, strong wind, snow and ice, and even storms will stop building activities. Similarly, extremely high temperatures can also slow down the build. These issues will not be prevented through site security, but they can be monitored accurately. Similarly, utility damage could also be accidental, such as a boiler leak or electrical fault on site. A protected site could speed up the information and repair process.
The stats behind these threats speak volumes:
- There were 209,000 recorded acts of vandalism against business premises in 2012.
- In 2012 over 1,000 metal thefts occurred each week from commercial properties in the UK, accounting for 1 in 6 of all thefts across all sectors.
- There is an estimated total £1 billion in repair costs to repair the damage and replace stolen items from these crimes for unoccupied commercial premises.
- 60 fires a day occur in or beside vacant buildings or construction sites.
- 30% of building fires were deliberate.
- Every 40 seconds someone fly-tips in the UK.
How much do businesses lose to a security breach?
Security breaches result in high consequences for construction sites; driving up costs for project management, the contractors, the investors, and the postponement of construction can result in the loss of future profits.
Costs are difficult to quantify precisely as each construction project is different. A construction site is expected to lose up to £50,000 in damage and replacement after a single theft.
Besides, when there is no liquidated damage clause, the parties involved must face additional expenses related to the project insurance, overhead costs, and project management and supervision. Delays in the construction project also increase contractor costs, including liability insurance, equipment rental and maintenance, material, field labour and demobilisation expenses.
Costs of security breaches can include:
- Additional project management time
- Prologued use of resources resulting in increased overheads
- Loss of use of a particular space
- Loss of rent payments should a block of flats be delayed for example
- Lost profits from a business not opening
- Project-specific insurance costs
- Construction loan interest expenses
Project-specific problems include:
- Equipment rental increases
- Prologued use of facilities such as toilets, site power and utilities
- Increased material costs
- Increase labour costs
- Loss of productivity
Physical vs Technological security solutions
Implementing security measures can help to prevent these costly issues however, the advised solution would very much be led by the stage of the construction project:
- Empty or vacant plot – whilst the site is empty there are still threats such as the threat of arson due to the presence of combustible rubbish. On site security is still required at this point. You can read more about vacant property security here.
- Demolition – There are threats associated with moving large amounts of materials and the demolition of large structures. Additional security measures should be implemented to prevent any injury or loss of life.
- Building work – At this point, there are a number of resources on-site such as plant material, high-value metals, wiring for heating, glass and the constant flow of vehicles.
- Fit-out, final fix – There is still a threat of vandalism and break in at this stage of the project.
Ideally, both physical and technological security should be used at each phase of the project.
Pros and cons of manned guarding for construction sites
Physical site security can be a game-changer in reducing costs and delays on a construction site. More often than not, staffed security services can act as a visual deterrent for criminals and trespassers. They are also more likely to notice a breach in security before the alarm is raised. During phase 1 and 2 as described above, physical security is of high importance.
Additionally, security officers can act as a contact point for incident reports. The presence of security guards do not eliminate the need for alarm systems and CCTV; they can complement technology security. They are also the first on-site to spot potential utility faults or other issues.
However, guarding a construction site 24/7 comes at a cost. Long-term sites are likely to incur high security fees. On large sites and properties, guards physically need to take rounds, which means they can’t be or see everywhere at one time. Security guards can also get tired or distracted. Relying on operated security services means a high level of trust, both in the individual and in the patrolling strategy.
Pros and cons of tech-based security for construction sites
On the other hand, tech-based security systems are sophisticated and designed to maintain surveillance and monitoring functions 24/7. CCTV units can be fitted with additional battery packs or power cell technology to maintain functionality even in the event of a power cut. Fitted with different alarms throughout the site, technology-based security can monitor utility faults, metal theft, trespassing, and record incidents. They can gain a full overview of the site in real-time and add auditing solutions to monitor additional site management needs.
It’s important to note that technology systems are often a reactive measure rather than a proactive measure. Whilst guards will act to deter criminals, tech such as alarms or CCTV can only alert site owners when an incident occurs.
Additionally, false alarms and sensor inaccuracies can happen. When the site is not manned, there is no visual deterrent. Additionally, it can take a long time to receive a police response in case of a security breach (but some security systems can provide priority response).
Which security solution is right for me?
In an ideal world, construction sites want to maintain a small team of manned guards and a technology system. Most sites choose to combine both security strategies on the advice of professional security auditors and site specialists. For example, during phase one, a vacant property alarm can be installed as well as a video verified alarm to alert site owners of any issues. This can work alongside a frequent patrol of the area should the budget not allow for 24/7 security.
If you’re unsure which approach is best suited for your construction site, we recommend an initial site risk assessment to evaluate the risks that are relevant to your project now, as well as in the future as the project progresses. Evaluating the costs of equipment, the access to the site, the value of items left on the premises, and the site profile can help determine the best course of action. We will ask the following questions to determine the best ‘mix’ of tech and manned guarding.
- How large is the site and the grounds surrounding it?
- Will there be high value equipment kept on the site?
- How secure are the perimeter boundaries?
- How secure are the exits and entrances of the building?
- Are there valuable metals, such as lead, visible or likely to be on the site?
- Are there any outbuildings?
- Is there a car park or bin area?
- How close are public footways or roads? Are they busy?
- What is the local crime rate data for the site?
- Is the site high profile – e.g. a former landmark?
- Is the property in an isolated location?
- How accessible are the utility services on site?
At Clearway we have a wealth of experience in securing, protecting and monitoring construction sites and vacant properties of all sizes and at various stages of development. No two projects are the same, and after an initial assessment, we often determine that a combination of both physical and technology based solutions work best for fully protecting your business and its assets. Contact us today for an initial site assessment and we will use our vast experience to recommend the most effective security measures for you and your assets.