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Construction Site Theft

The impact of supply chain ‘shortages’ on UK construction and why we need to protect our assets.

The BBC said it best: “Shortages seem to be the only thing we’re not running out of in the UK in 2021.” Interruptions in the supply chain have negatively affected every industry, from cars and technology to food and fuel.” 

Unfortunately, the construction industry hasn’t been immune from these shortages. In fact, homebuilding.co.uk suggests that “the construction materials shortage has led to the price of materials rising in each of the last 12 months” an issue that has affected both construction companies and property owners alike. 

The issue is exacerbated when combined with site theft and vandalism. According to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Building, “92% of respondents were directly affected by petty crime, with 21% stating that their construction sites were robbed on a weekly basis. The Construction Equipment Association (CEA) has reported a 50% surge in construction site crime rates since the coronavirus lockdown.”

These supply shortages, combined with the frequency in which building sites and construction sites experience theft and loss is the ‘perfect storm’ for potentially devastating project delays and expenses when attempting to replace what was taken. Site managers must be more vigilant than ever when protecting valuable site assets. 

But why is the UK running low?

The UK has been hit with a disastrous combination of lockdowns due to the pandemic, workplace restrictions, border closures and Brexit fallout causing noticeable supply chain disruption and crippling shortages of materials/commodities both domestically and internationally. In some cases (certainly in the case of the outgoing petrol shortage) the shortages have been compounded by ‘panic-buying’ from the public. Further to this, the UK saw a large surge in construction projects either starting or resuming once the last lockdown was lifted as the UK economy lurched back into action. Lastly, the shortage in HGV drivers as a result of Brexit only adds insult to injury. 

Are construction sites more vulnerable than ever?

Building sites and (vacant) properties are particularly susceptible to ‘opportunistic thieves.’ Given the shortages, contractors are discovering just how difficult it is to replace tools, timber and supplies at this time as a result of theft. But which items will site managers / owners struggle to replace in the event of a breach in their construction site security? 

Timber and building materials

As reported by the BBC, “the price of timber has risen sharply with builders struggling to get supplies, as post-lockdown construction and DIY projects create huge demand.” Timber is an essential component to a number of projects – private housing, RM&I and infrastructure sectors need softwood to complete key projects – and with the price of timber jumping over 23% in the last month alone it could be extremely costly to replace should it be stolen from a site. Prices have increased by 50-75% since the lockdown lifted. In fact, tradesmen are reporting that projects are having to be requoted, with the original price of the project proving uneconomical due to rising building material prices. 

Further to this, “ONS data reveals which building materials are seeing the biggest rises in price and delivery time.” Builders merchant news reported the Top 10 Building Materials Increasing in Price Year-on-Year October 2021:

  1. Imported Sawn or Planed Wood 74%
  2.  Fabricated Structural Steel 73%
  3.  Particle Board 65%
  4.  Concrete Reinforcing Bars (Steel) 62%
  5.  Imported Plywood 56%
  6.  Builders’ Woodwork 14%
  7.  Plastic for Doors and Windows 13%
  8.  Pre-Cast Concrete Products 12%
  9.  Non-Aqueous Paint 11%
  10.  Flexible Pipes and Fittings 8%

If any of these materials were lifted from your (empty) site, contractors can only expect long and expensive delays in trying to replace them. Deadlines for projects can be pushed back considerably leading to expensive consequences. 

Construction plant

Contractors and project managers are also struggling to replace stolen plant, machinery and tools on the back of a post Covid surge in demand, leading to long purchase and hire lead times that have never been seen before in the industry. These increased lead times are also in part due to manufacturers reporting problems in sourcing steel for machines which is very likely to cause large delays to projects that rely on this expensive and in-demand machinery. 

This shortage is also increasing the demand for second-hand machinery with sellers reporting that machinery is selling for higher than originally purchased in the previous year. 

It comes as no surprise that since the lockdown lifted back in Spring 2021 there has been strong correlation reported between the unprecedented surge in demand for plant machinery and a continued rise in construction site thefts. For example, on the 25th of July, £100k worth of tools material and machinery were lifted from a building site in Cambridge. It appears that these economic challenges have resulted in an increase in thefts, putting contractors and site managers on high alert. 

The use of plant machinery, tools and equipment such as dumpers, excavators, loaders, compressors, generators, cranes, warehouse trucks & forklifts, and trailers are, of course, key for day to day construction activities. The absence of these machines would cause a project to grind to a half almost instantly. 

Other Shortages

There are a number of other functions that are key to the smooth running of a construction site or management of (vacant) property. These other functions are seemingly small but have been seriously affected by shortages. For example, cars and vans play a key role in the transportation of both staff and materials. Reports of a chip shortage have been widespread, with construction companies struggling to acquire the vehicles necessary for smooth operations. Vehicle theft is one of the most widely reported crimes – so project managers and contractors cannot afford to lose vehicles at this time. 

So how can you prevent breaches and their consequences?

Luckily, there are a number of key security protocols to implement to protect your vacant property or construction site from expensive losses due to material and machinery shortages. For example:

  1. CCTV Surveillance – the presence of CCTV is perhaps one of the largest deterrents and is the first consideration of thieves when assessing a site security system. CCTV systems can also give contractors and site managers peace of mind, knowing that they will be alerted of any unauthorised breaches. CCTV towers give the best coverage in turns of monitoring open spaces.  Our solar powered, purpose-built rapid deployment CCTV towers can be installed and configured quickly once on-site, providing instant and long-term visual security for large open spaces that can operate independently of mains power. 
  2. CCTV Monitoring – a security system is only as good as the staff or first responders when there has been a breach. Monitoring a (vacant) site 24 hours a day allows for a fast response in the event of a breach preventing the loss of critical plant and machinery and the associated hassle of replacing it, for example. Our fixed or temporary CCTV systems are set, by default, to record 24/7 and can be viewed via a mobile device or PC from any location.
  3. Vacant property alarms – in addition to  CCTV, an alarm system adds a further line of defence. Protecting key areas with an alarm can prevent theft if the offenders are deterred by an audible warning and forced to leave the scene. The Clearway Alarm system is a monitored, stand-alone, battery-powered, wire-free, mobile network alarm system specifically designed for use where no mains power or telephone line is available.
  4. Concrete Barrier Blocks – to steal plant machinery or vehicles you need access to roads and entry / exit points, especially for larger machinery such as forklifts and cranes. Precast concrete barriers provide an effective way to protect the vulnerable points of unoccupied car parks, private land areas, construction sites and any other areas.
  5. Access Control – the movement of people, machinery and building supplies should be tightly controlled in order to prevent unauthorised access. Access control systems enable site managers to control traffic in defined areas, limiting the opportunity for thieves or vandals to gain unlawful access.

The costs associated with the loss of machinery and subsequent delays in the project are often many times the cost of implementing construction site security protocols as listed above. For more information visit our construction site security page here.

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