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Noticeable increase in theft in Winter, say construction workers

Noticeable increase in theft in Winter, say construction workers

Over half of UK construction workers observe an increase in crime over Autumn and Winter as evenings get darker earlier, research from site security firm, BauWatch, has revealed today.

The “Construction theft – what’s the real cost?” study, conducted in October 2023, investigated 500 construction workers’ first-hand experience of crime. When asked about their perception of the risk in winter, two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed reported higher incidents of theft and trespassing on sites when the clocks go back. A striking three-quarters (72%) of female construction professionals felt there was more of a risk of crime when the nights draw in, as opposed to six in ten men (62%).

Winter crime hotspots include London, South West and the North West (73%, 76%, 73%). Surprisingly, workers on sites in Scotland, where the Winter days are shortest, did not report much of a surge.

In addition to the perceived heightened risk in colder months, 62% of workers observed that crime on energy, infrastructure, and commercial projects has worsened overall in the past year. A further six in ten of those surveyed believe that crime is becoming more sophisticated – coming just months after European copper manufacturer, Aurubis, became victim to one of Germany’s worst copper heists[1].

The insights form part of a more comprehensive report from BauWatch about construction crime, set to launch early next year.

A hidden productivity drain

Construction crime already costs the UK construction industry around £800 million a year according to the latest industry figures from Allianz Cornhill[2]. But with materials costs at an all-time high, sites are increasingly becoming targets for theft. Construction sites might see a dramatic increase in crime if site security is not stepped up this winter.

Subcontractors are also at risk

Ben Hancock, Managing Director of Oscar Acoustics, which specialises in architectural acoustic finishes, warns that subcontractors are also vulnerable. He’s had several vehicles broken into in the wake of the slowing economy.

“Thieves actively target white work vans as they think high-value tools are inside,” he said. “We now have a policy of not leaving equipment in vans, even temporarily. That said, even if the crooks leave empty-handed, it’s still a headache, as we have to get the vans repaired and repainted, which will leave us a team down and negate project timelines. The costs to us go far beyond repairs, and the situation is so bad we now have an additional van in our fleet purely to cover break-ins.”

“We’re also in the process of building our new HQ in Kent. Our contractor has reported both opportunistic incidents and more sophisticated attempts where drones were used to scope out the site. They have had to increase their security systems onsite. Even the temporary road signs were being stolen.”

Call for firms to be extra vigilant

With sustained inflation increasing the price of goods and heightening the risk of crime, BauWatch is calling on firms to take additional preventative action against thieves as soon as possible.

“Construction sites are ripe targets for theft, with valuable machinery, materials, tools, and appliances at every turn. But our research suggests criminals are becoming more brazen and the situation is worsening,” said Alexis Potter, BauWatch’s Managing Director. “The best way to minimise the impact of theft is to deter criminals from entering at all. As the nights get darker, firms need to take appropriate preventative action against theft.”