Heavy equipment is big, hard to move and not exactly easy to hide under your coat—and yet it’s still an attractive target for thieves. When you think of the cost and demand for specialized machinery, it’s unfortunate but really not surprising that heavy equipment theft is a multi-million dollar problem around the world. Most popular among thieves: smaller, easier-to-move machines like backhoes and skid steers.
In the USA, between US$300 million and US$1 billion a year is lost nationwide due to the theft of construction equipment and tools, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)—and only 10% is recovered.1 More than £1 million of equipment is stolen each week in the UK, according to the National Plant & Equipment Register.2 And in the Canadian province of Ontario, between $15 and $20 million worth of heavy construction equipment is stolen every year.3
And it’s not just a case of opportunistic thieves stealing one piece of equipment to make a quick buck or get their hands on a ‘free’ machine. Sophisticated criminal groups know what types of equipment are in demand globally, and will go on a “shopping spree” of theft with the goal of shipping the stolen equipment out of the country to wherever buyers can be found around the world.4
Heavy equipment can be easy pickings for thieves for a lot of reasons – it’s often left unattended in remote locations, single keys can start multiple machines, and with no national or global database of serial numbers, it’s hard to trace and recover stolen equipment.5 And, quite simply, a lot of people don’t employ basic anti-theft measures.6
So how do you protect your investment? Here are some simple, relatively low-cost (or no-cost, in some cases) steps you can take:
- Keep accurate records of all your equipment – year, manufacturer, model, serial numbers or VINs, photos, lists of key holders – anything that can help identify a machine if it is stolen.
- Register your equipment with an organization that maintains databases of heavy equipment ownership, theft information, etc—like the National Equipment Register in the USA or the National Plant & Equipment Register in Europe.7
- Do background and reference checks on all potential employees.
- Keep a list of people authorized to enter/leave your worksite, who is authorized to use certain equipment, and always log visitors in and out.
- Try to keep a site’s perimeter fenced and equipped with well-secured gates, or other types of barriers such as ditches or berms.
- Keep your site well lit at all times, or install motion-activated lighting.
- Make sure all keys are removed from equipment when it’s not in use and kept in a lock box or other secure location. Keep a record of keys and a sign out/sign in sheet.
- Install gauge protectors and panel locks on your equipment, or install engine immobilizer systems. Failing that, a simple way to make it difficult for thieves to start equipment is to disconnect batteries or remove ignition fuses.
- For larger investments, you may want to spend money on sophisticated GPS tracking technology (search online for “GPS heavy equipment theft prevention” – there are many options on the market).
- Consider contracting a security guard service to monitor your worksite and/or installing video surveillance systems. Failing that, there’s nothing like a big, loud scary dog on your site to put the fear in would-be thieves.
If you need to replace equipment lost to theft, search for heavy equipment and trucks selling at upcoming auctions.