Summary: The consequences of theft and lack of security in the construction workplace is not always understood. Several states have contractor-based trade associations who partner with law enforcement and monitor, participate and assist contractors in protecting your assets.
Cost Retention and Safety Enhancement: Protecting Your Assets
While construction activities are fluctuating due to the current economic situation, general, heavy/highway and specialty contractors continue to face increasing consumer and regulatory demands and requirements to provide a safe, healthy and secure work environment for their employees.
However, the consequences of theft and lack of security in the workplace are not always understood. Several states have contractor-based trade associations who partner with law enforcement, e.g. the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program (CICP), which monitors, participates and assists contractors in protecting your assets.
To test your knowledge, Take the Crime Quiz
True or False:
1. Substance abuse is an important factor contributing to crime.
Unfortunately, True. The Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program has been notified that some construction firms have relaxed their hiring standards, including substance abuse polices, because of the severe labor shortage. Employee theft accounts for around 85% of a firm's theft problem. One employee with a substance abuse problem can be a firm's entire theft problem in addition to creating a safety problem on the jobsite.
2. Attitude has nothing to do with theft on a jobsite.
False. Rationalization and opportunity are two of the leading factors in employee theft. The common rationalization from some employees is "The contractor leaves all these tools, generators and equipment unprotected, because they are so rich. Obviously they don't care. Besides, I need a drill at home." Congratulations, you have just had a theft.
Most construction firms provide the opportunity for theft if there is poor or no inventory control at a jobsite, lack of inventory accountability, no one is watching payroll checks, or the firm is willingly handing out replacement tools and materials.
3. So long as employees are working and getting paid, the job is getting done.
True. However, job quality and efficiency can be compromised. Thefts and vandalism can rise in direct relationship to how employees are treated. It is always wise to review your layoff and termination procedures and see that they are carefully and calmly carried out.
Terminations alone account for some of the worst vandalism cases identified by the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program. The Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program historically had taken a close look at these cases and in each one, the employee was terminated in front of his peers by an angry site manager. While one can sympathize with the site manager's frustration — so often justified — but it can cost him/her dearly in the long run.
All jobsites should be made extra secure, locks changed, and an obvious tightening of security implemented following a difficult termination or layoff.
4. Using Tailgate Safety Meetings to discuss crime incident is detrimental and takes away from production on the jobsite.
False. Many contractors have controlled thefts by using a safety meeting as the basis for discussion. Routine and/or regular discussion of vandalism and theft can control the issue and raise awareness among the employees.
Ask for employee input. Treat the person with the best crime prevention tip of the month with a gift certificate. The majority of employees are honest, but they often perceive the company's attitude as "not caring" because it is never discussed.
5. Posting signage to deter theft or a reward poster is beneficial.
True. Many crimes and theft have been uncovered because of postings and utilizing safety meetings to discuss items such as these. If you belong to a Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program, pass out reward fliers. Ask anyone with information to call the CICP hotline and remind them they can remain anonymous. State that losses are going to be investigated, and make a point of assigning someone the responsibility of securing the jobsite. Be obvious about looking through debris piles and control debris. A clean jobsite presents a concerned, careful attitude that will also send strangers on down the road to look for easier pickings.
6. Crime problems are not an issue in construction.
False. If you don't think you have a crime problem, it probably isn't being tracked. Check with your Safety representative, Risk Manager, Insurance loss control representative or claims adjuster to verify just how much this exposure is causing a problem.
Your safety rep, insurance representative, risk manager, law enforcement and the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program can share with you various ways in which to lower your loss exposure as well as retain efficiency, productivity and replacement costs.
7. The majority of jobsites are cased during the day, especially for equipment.
True. Crime statistics reveal the job is cased throughout the day, especially for items which return a high dollar value on the black market.
All strangers should be challenged, and all visitors should be required to sign in at the job trailer or with the site manager and the rule must be enforced. Contact your CICP organization for appropriate signage to reduce your liabilities after hours. Signage, as offered by the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program, offers a round-the-clock emergency crime hotline that is visible and well known to law enforcement and the public. This is a good deterrent.
8. Crime is preventable.
True. Keep padlocks closed at all times. Use only case-hardened padlocks and if you must use chain, it should be case-hardened as well. Check to see that padlocks are closed in recessed covers on bins.
With increasing insurance premiums, contractors cannot afford to ignore the long range implications of crime if they want to improve their bottom line and reduce their liabilities.
9. A suspect, including strangers, often returns to the scene of the crime.
True. They want to gauge the reaction on the jobsite. As Andy Warhol says, everybody has 15 minutes of fame. For contractors, indifference, no "tightening up," and/or a business-as-usual attitude only escalates the suspect's confidence and your theft problem.
Unfortunately, the repeated crimes of contractors' job trailers or tool bins being broken into is an indication of a repeat offender. Besides, they get needed tools every time.
In 2001, California Youth Authority inmates informed the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program of Northern California that they often vandalized a site and returned early in the morning to watch the site manager "yell and cuss," knowing there would be little or no follow up. This reactive approach to theft gave the offenders the confidence to start up equipment, move it around, and cause more damage.
Proactive approaches to deter crime, theft and vandalism includes handing out reward fliers, addressing crime issues at tailgate meetings, tightening up on inventory control, and security. Motion sensor lights hooked up to alarms are also effective, especially when wired to come on in unexpected areas.
10. Crimes, vandalism and thefts are part of doing business, and insurance covers the losses.
False. Case studies revealed one contractor had sustained a $400,000 judgment. A juvenile raced his motorcycle all over their jobsite, causing major damage. He crashed the bike, resulting in him becoming a paraplegic. The judge ruled they did have "No Trespassing" signs, but they did not have enough!
Three 4- and 5-year-old children started up a backhoe in Berkeley. It took five patrol cars to get them stopped as they crashed into street barricades and generally caused havoc and panic for the residents.
The company was very fortunate: they were not sued by the neighbors, nor by the children's parents for leaving the backhoe with the keys in it outside the locked gate. In addition, the news media did not "showcase" the contractor on the six o'clock news for endangering children who live in a low-income neighborhood. Fortunately, the only injuries sustained were to the equipment.
A contractor's risk manager went pale when the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program informed him that a drug addict, according to his statement, "needed a ride home" and drove one of their backhoes five miles over county roads, parking it near his house.
The possibilities of a tragedy in these scenarios is very real. Negative publicity, impact to public relations, associated costs and headaches do not need to be outlined for any risk manager, superintendent or owner. Even though the examples listed above are not your employees, the exposure and risk is out there. The bottom line is that the company loses money, injuries occur, and the liability is great, unless you take strong preventive measures to minimize this.
11. If your tools and equipment cannot be positively identified, in most cases the thief is the winner.
True. Mark all tools and equipment with the driver's license number of a principal operating owner in a firm or clear company identification. Employees should be required to do the same. Take inventory. If your site managers can't tell law enforcement or your insurance company what is missing following a theft and/or provide serial numbers, the thief is the winner. However, take caution, blue spray paint and somebody's initials on a bunch of hand tools does not qualify as "positive identification."
Tally your Score
So, how did you score in protecting your assets? Hopefully, 100%. Yet, if not, there are resources to help you. Contact your trade association, your state/regional Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program, and your loss control representative. These organizations can assist you in physical site surveys, law enforcement liaison and recovery of your assets. Be smart and get involved in cost retention and safety enhancement.
Nancy Moorhouse is founder and CEO of the Jasta Group. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the International Society of Mine Safety Professionals (ISMSP). Nancy is also a certified OSHA and MSHA instructor. Nancy is an ALCM, ARM, CMSP, CSHM, CMSP, CSP and holds an MBA from California State University, Sacramento.
More articles, videos, and podcasts by Nancy Moorhouse:
The “Boots-on-the-Ground” Perspective
Shorten The Claim Life Cycle With Functional Restoration - A Case Study
What To Do In A Crisis: A First Hour Response Checklist
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