Last year, the sudden nature of the coronavirus shutdown led to sloppy jobsite closures, leaving sites vulnerable to savvy thieves. Many jobsites were simply abandoned, as construction workers were sent home until construction could be reopened.

Yet even without extenuating circumstances, tool and equipment theft is a common problem at jobsites across the country. The most recent insurance industry estimates suggest the theft costs anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion annually.

In Santa Fe, N.M., officials discovered at a single address nearly $100,000 worth of equipment and tools that could be tied back to construction site incidents. In Las Vegas, copper wires were stolen from city street lights, causing more than $50,000 worth of damages. And it only takes the loss of one piece of large equipment for these costs to swell even further.

Construction site theft includes taking anything that will fit in a pickup truck, from power tools and copper wiring to expensive electronics like GPS and 3D measurement systems. There are ongoing reports of criminals stealing large equipment. But these five measures can help protect your jobsite.

The permanent marker Label everything—from smaller hand tools to heavy equipment—with your company’s name. Make it hard to remove or erase by using welders or etching tools and be sure to include attachments and removable parts. Consider microdot technology to make it more easily identifiable. 

The security strategy Many criminals are put off by layers of defenses. Fully seal the building envelope, including climb-resistant fencing and properly locked doors. Limit the number of access points and hang surveillance warnings to trespassers. Ensure sufficient lighting across the entire site, especially at access points and in dark corners. If you’re operating in a high-crime area, you may want to hire onsite guards in spite of the cost.

The technology angle 

Projects should consider motion-activated camera systems to monitor all angles and points of entry. Many systems are tied to a cell phone—perhaps the project manager’s or the superintendent’s—to receive notifications when sensors are triggered. Larger projects may find Wi-Fi-enabled tags on equipment useful. 

The portable problem Anything with wheels needs extra attention. Skid-steer loaders and tractors are the most commonly stolen pieces of equipment, but thieves can be deterred by hydraulic locks and options for hidden disconnects. Smaller equipment such as generators and welders should be locked up, whether inside the site envelope or in a secure box.

The storage room 

Locking everything down is another strategy. Be sure gang boxes have enclosed and recessed locking points and locks that can’t be drilled open and that any wheels have been removed. Finally, create a policy encouraging workers to return equipment to a safe place daily, rather than taking tools home or leaving them in a vehicle.