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A full-size construction excavator can weigh upwards of 90 tons. That level of heft would seem to make it next to impossible to steal. But you’d be surprised, most unpleasantly, to learn that heavy equipment is indeed stolen from jobsites.

In its 2016 Construction Equipment Theft Recovery Report, antitheft device providers LoJack identified wheeled and tracked loaders as the most commonly stolen assets. But there’s a black market for virtually any type of equipment — and it’s costing the industry millions.

Dangerous times

Thieves often strike jobsites on weekends and holidays, realizing that their most opportune moments are when the sites are idle. Open cabs, a lack of security and the fact that a single key can operate many machines are among the weaknesses thieves exploit.

Equipment most in demand, other than the aforementioned loaders, includes tractors, backhoes, compressors and generators. Jobsite raiders will resell the equipment to unsuspecting contractors or break them down into pieces for resale as parts.

Theft has increased so much in recent years that some contractors factor stolen equipment into the cost of doing business. Unfortunately, the costs of replacing stolen equipment, short-term rentals, project overruns and wasted labor can drive profits into the ground.

You can protect yourself by taking proactive steps to secure your sites, materials and equipment. In doing so, you may be eligible to receive discounted insurance premiums. Check with your carrier for specifics on such a program.

Defensive measures

Your company probably employs some defensive measures to protect heavy equipment. But it never hurts to double-check their efficacy and consider others.

For example, how is your fencing? Strong fences and locked gates are obviously a critical first line of defense. In high-risk areas, add razor wire around the fence top or install electrified fencing. Also ensure that your signage is thorough and visible, driving home that you have security on site and will prosecute violators.

Lighting is critical as well. If you aren’t already using them, install security lights that activate in low light. Instruct your project manager to ensure someone is checking the lights regularly and repairing any that burn out.

Most newer equipment will come preloaded with security features. But if you’re using older assets, you might have to rekey the equipment so that universal keys don’t work. Look into whether you need to install antitheft devices such as tire locks, alarms and ignition-disabling devices.

For particularly risky projects or in high-crime areas, consider installing security cameras or even putting human eyes on the jobsite. Explore the cost-effectiveness of hiring a security firm. You might also ask your local police department to regularly drive by after hours and on weekends. At the very least, conduct random site visits to ensure nothing unusual is going on.

Proper documentation

No matter how carefully you protect your sites and equipment, prepare for the worst by maintaining an equipment inventory that includes the year, make, model, serial number and date of purchase for each piece of machinery. Also, document identifying marks such as company logos and phone numbers, and photograph all pieces of equipment from multiple points of view. Then store the pictures, along with ownership documents, in a secure place.

You can register your equipment with the National Equipment Register — now known simply as NER — which was formed in 2001 to combat the growing problem of construction theft. The organization maintains databases of registered and stolen equipment, assists in tracking stolen equipment through its 24-hour hotline, and works with law enforcement agencies and the insurance industry to identify stolen equipment. You can visit its website at ner.net.

Important challenge

It may seem like a magic trick to make a bulldozer disappear from a fenced-in area. But there’s nothing entertaining or amusing about these crimes. Make sure you’re doing everything in your power to protect yourself.

© 2019

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