Project Security: How to Keep Your Site Safe around the Clock
Construction jobsite theft totals some $1 billion annually, according to National Equipment Register. And that doesn’t include costs of business interruption, such as project delay penalties and wasted workforce time.
Better understanding the potential threats and the steps you can take to minimize them could save you a load of money and time.
What’s likely to be stolen?
Thieves look for two things: value and mobility. They typically favor the most expensive equipment that can fit on a small trailer. That’s why loaders (skid steers, backhoes and wheel loaders) are the most likely targets. However, even large equipment is stolen, including more than 300 excavators and 100 bulldozers each year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Other commonly stolen items according to the Great American Insurance Group (GAIG) are copper wire, scrap metal, tools, generators, doors, windows and plumbing supplies and fixtures.
When do thefts occur?
Approximately 90 percent of equipment thefts take place between 6 p.m. on Friday and 6 a.m. on Monday, according to GAIG. The National Equipment Register reports that theft levels closely correspond with peak construction periods, making the summer months the most vulnerable. However, there’s an uptick in theft in December and January.
What’s your first step in prevention?
It’s a good idea to get help from local police and fire departments. Schedule a pre-construction meeting to give them details of your project, work schedule, starting time and projected completion date. Tell them how your equipment is marked for identification. Provide the contact information of your key personnel.
The law enforcement officers can provide information and tips relevant to your region. For example, the Crime Prevention Unit in Canton, Michigan, encourages construction managers in their area to keep sites well lighted, fenced and protected with electric alarm systems.
How can you make equipment more theft resistant?
The National Insurance Crime Bureau urges construction managers to follow these theft prevention tips (some apply only to equipment you own, of course):
- Install hidden fuel shut-off systems.
- Remove fuses and circuit breakers when equipment is unattended.
- Render equipment immobile or difficult to move after hours or on weekends by clustering it in a “wagon circle.” Place more easily transported items, such as generators and compressors, in the middle of the circle, surrounded by larger pieces of equipment.
- Use hydro locks to fix articulated equipment in a curved position, preventing it from traveling in a straight line.
- Use sleeve locks to fix backhoe pads in an extended position, keeping wheels off the ground.
Other preventative measures
- Post “No Trespassing” signs and signs stating there is 24-hour video surveillance (and actually have it).
- Control access to the jobsite by having just one entry point.
- Use GPS tracking chips for large, expensive pieces of equipment.
These simple, relatively low-tech measures can help save you stress, lost hours, financial setbacks and maximize productivity on the jobsite.
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Why and How to Review 'Near Misses'
Sometimes bad things "almost happen" on construction sites. Someone would have stepped on a nail sticking out of a board if a co-worker hadn't given a last-minute warning. An equipment operator might have backed over someone if an alert bystander hadn't run over and banged on his window.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers these types of close calls indicators that future recordable accidents or injuries could happen. While the company doesn't have to report them to OSHA, the agency is in favor of programs that keep track of these near misses and help management take a new look at safety procedures.
But how do you get employees to inform their supervisors when a near miss happens?
First, as with any other successful company initiative, upper management has to demonstrate buy-in. Once workers see that the company has made near-miss reporting a high priority, they're more likely to comply.
Next, develop an easy-to-use, non-punitive reporting system. For each report that comes in, perform what OSHA calls a "root cause analysis," which looks at the episode and asks how and why it occurred and what needs to change so that it doesn't happen again. These assessments aim to get at the core reasons for the incident, not just the immediate cause.
In the example of the worker who almost stepped on a nail, the immediate cause might be that a carpenter overlooked the board as he was demolishing a wall. But one underlying reason could be that there isn’t an adequate, safe waste removal process in place.
Finally, management should educate workers about what the company is trying to achieve — fewer accidents — and roll out the specifics of the plan at a special group training session. The importance of reporting near-miss incidents should also be made part of each new employee's introduction to the company.
A near miss means someone got lucky — and might not be as lucky the next time. Near-miss reporting and analysis helps take luck out of the equation.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.