At a glance
- Theft and vandalism costing UK construction industry over £1million per day
- Construction sites becoming a focus of arson attacks and metal thefts as they’re perceived by criminals as being ‘soft targets’
- Zurich’s Best Practice Guidance For Construction Companies offers the latest prevention advice
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With their expensive machinery, valuable materials and often-temporary security arrangements, construction sites are prime targets for opportunistic criminals.
It is estimated that theft and vandalism – not including arson – on UK construction sites already costs the industry over £1million per day, but this figure is expected to rise as organised criminal gangs continue to focus on what they consider to be soft and easy targets.
“When it comes to construction, and particularly building sites, there are two main kinds of vandalism,” says Pam Allardice, Director of Construction at law firm Howes Percival.
“The first is wanton vandalism – people who come on to a construction site with no purpose other than to destroy and cause a mess. Premeditated and determined vandalism is almost impossible to stop, short of police intelligence and arresting the perpetrators.
“The second type is vandalism as a side effect to targeted theft of goods and materials, both fixed and unfixed, and of plant.”
While this malicious damage and theft continues to be a problem, it is arson and the ever-increasing cases of metal theft on construction sites that tend to generate column inches in newspapers.
Not only is this bad publicity, but these incidents can have an immediate negative impact with direct costs due to loss and damage of valuable assets and associated costs such as interruption to work or in extreme cases the halting of all site operations.
How your construction customers can minimise risk
Good site management techniques can be very effective in minimising the risk of vandalism.
- Keeping the site as uncluttered as possible makes unauthorised people easier to spot
- Allowing goods and materials to be delivered on to the site just before they are needed reduces the number of tempting targets
- Operate a robust sign-in, sign-out procedure for everyone on the site: in-house staff as well as sub-contractors and delivery drivers
- Discourage opportunistic theft by making sure the ownership of all plant and equipment on the site can be easily identified with clear labelling and distinctive markings
- Take a walk round the outside of the site to identify any security blind spots, where it might be easy to gain unauthorised access
- If possible, place site huts, or the windows of site huts, in locations where even a casual glance might pick up someone acting suspiciously
Arson is one of the most frequent acts of criminal damage caused by those perpetrating malicious damage against construction sites. RISCAuthority, a scheme for the advancement of risk management within the fire and security sectors, has stated that more than 40% of all construction sector fires are now lit deliberately, equating to 11 fires every day.
This is costing the UK construction sector £400million a year alone, but this doesn’t take into account business interruption and lost man-hours. Then there is the human tragedy. Approximately two people die and 53 are injured every week in arson attacks on UK construction sites.
To mitigate the risk, a fire risk assessment plan should be conducted immediately, which also ensures that construction firms meet the Fire Code of Practice.
Initially, metal theft had been making headlines with the stripping of copper and lead from church roofs, costing the Church of England £10million in 2012 alone. However, opportunistic thieves are now looking more and more at construction sites with their wealth of materials as prime targets – especially those with lax security.
Whether it is copper cabling or steel girders, the theft of such materials is not only expensive, but can lead to consequential loss, such as the theft of lead roof flashings leading to water damage.
Zurich’s Best Practice Guidance for Construction Companies states that to deter thieves, physical security measures need to be visible along with appropriate warning signs displayed. Barbed wire, anti-climb spikes and paint all need to be at least 2.5 metres above the ground to avoid any legal liability.
Vandalism and arson on a site will usually cause some delay and disruption to the progress of the works as well as taking up a lot of management time and additional cost – prevention is far better than cure.
Pam Allardice, Director of Construction at law firm Howes Percival
Of course, as general practice, the amount of material and stock left on site should be kept to a minimum. Construction customers should try to implement stock logistics to aid in this, such as just-in-time deliveries or, in the case of large orders, storage in a security compound where any attempted break-ins will be quickly detected.
External lighting, remote alarms and CCTV have all proven to be effective deterrents when it comes to stopping construction site thieves. It’s important to note, however, that if CCTV is installed, signs must be displayed otherwise video footage cannot be used as evidence. It is also vital that all lights and cameras are placed as high up as possible, to prevent intentional damage by intruders.
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“Prevention is far better than cure,” said Pam. “Vandalism and arson on a site will usually cause some delay and disruption to the progress of the works as well as taking up a lot of management time and additional cost. Damage to the works should be covered by insurance although often the value can be below the level of the claim excess.
“Also, many insurers impose specific requirements for site security. These can be buried in the small print, but if not complied with will mean that the loss or damage is not covered. Site agents need to be made aware of these requirements and given the resources to comply with them.”