Research shows that nearly four out of five tradespeople in the UK have experienced tool theft with the estimated cost to the industry coming in at a staggering £2.8 billion.

Because the victims of tool theft are often self-employed, the impact of their individual losses on them, their families, livelihoods and mental health can be devastating. However, the criminals targeting construction sites and trade vans rarely stop to think about such things and so it’s vital that construction companies prioritise and put every effort into site security.

In this week’s blog, we’ll look at how big this problem has become and what you can do to protect your site.

How big is the problem?

In 2022, the online construction community, On The Tools, partnered with Simply Business to create the ‘Tradespeople Against Tool Theft White Paper’ to research the problem of tool theft, showcase people’s experiences and call for changes to be made.

Alongside that £2.8 billion cost to the industry as a whole, their research revealed a whole set of alarming facts:

  • Only one per cent of tradespeople’s stolen tools were recovered.
  • Tool theft costs tradespeople an average of £4,470.
  • One in five tradespeople lose over £5,000 worth of tools to theft.
  • Almost two in five tradespeople have had tools stolen from outside their home.
  • 39% of tradespeople agreed that having tools stolen has had a ‘strong impact’ on their mental health.

If it’s hard to visualise that impact from facts and figures alone, consider the case of Bret Bradford, a landscape gardener and builder from Telford who estimates he’s been a victim of tool theft around 20 times with losses amounting to over £30,000!

Recently, Bret revealed the impact that these losses (and especially one particular theft) has had on him, his family, colleagues and business. In a YouTube video made for ‘On the Tools’, Bret speaks of the shock he experienced when his tools were stolen while he was volunteering for the TV show DIY SOS:

“Two weeks before I did the DIY SOS show, I lost my dad and my sister in a week to cancer. And I was doing a job for a person who was actually suffering from cancer. So, to take that in at the same time and do the job for the people, and have my tools stolen, you could have struck me down. I almost fell to my knees.”

See more of Bret’s story here.

What can be done?

Sadly Bret’s is just one of a huge number of victims of tool theft within the construction industry and it’s obvious that more has to be done in terms of bringing perpetrators of these crimes to justice rather than relying on crime numbers and insurance claims to mop up the problem.

While that remains a difficult challenge to solve, there are preventive measures that construction sites can take to create as much of a crime-free environment as possible. Here are five top tips:

1. Ensure the site is well-lit

A lot of criminal activity on construction sites takes place at night time when those intent on theft assume there are few other people around and some tools or equipment might be left unattended. So, make your site ‘unattractive’ to thieves by installing lighting that eliminates any dark corners (remember to cover exteriors and interiors of buildings). Motion sensor lighting fixtures that picks up on any movement can be effective, particularly if they are connected to other security systems such a surveillance cameras (see tip 4 below). Because they are not ‘on’ all the time, this also saves energy costs.

2. Keep equipment locked up or out of site

To prevent your site from becoming a target for thieves, it’s crucial that all your tools and equipment are out of site and as safe/ secure from theft as possible at the end of every day (and at other times when the site is left empty). That means locking up those valuable assets in storage boxes/ cargo trailers (with tamper resistant locks and keys held by a supervisor or security personnel); installing ignition cut-off switches into plant machinery; and also taking measures to secure loose materials, for instance using plastic sheeting to cover brick piles or concrete mixes.

3. Secure the perimeter

A permitter fence is an absolute must-have for every construction site as this has multiple purposes in the fight against thieves.

Firstly, it’s a barrier, making it difficult for would-be thieves to enter and then exit the site with their stolen goods; secondly, it’s a cloak, blocking outsiders from seeing what you have on site; and thirdly, it’s a warning system, a place where you can attach signs that warn criminals of the security features you have on the site and the hazards associated with trespassing.

Corrugated hoarding panels are particularly effective because their smooth surface makes it difficult for anyone to climb and they can be painted in dark colours to obscure your site’s assets.

4. Install Surveillance Systems

One of the best ways of protecting your site is to install video cameras at entry points and other key areas. As well as allowing you to monitor the entire site, cameras can also be a good deterrent.

Opt for cameras with a wide-angle lens (so as to cover as large an area as possible) and, to ensure they are not simply capturing criminal acts on film rather than preventing them, it’s a good idea to have your cameras connected to an alarm system that’s monitored in real-time (perhaps by a security team).

5. Hire security

Our final tip is therefore to bring in the professionals, hiring security staff to patrol the site, prevent thieves from gaining entry and react quickly in the event of a surveillance camera sounding the alarm.

Be sure to look for a team that’s accredited by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). This way, you’ll have highly trained guards that know what action to take in the event of a crime being committed, including liaising with law enforcement and supporting any following legal proceedings.

And finally…

Tool theft has, for many years, been a big problem for the UK construction industry. Now, the report from On the Tools and Simple Be is predicting that, as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, theft levels will increase. As the economic squeeze continues, 58% of tradespeople believe that a rise in tool theft is inevitable.

Using every means available to you to keep your construction site secure is therefore more important than ever. Investing in lighting, locks, fencing, cameras and security teams are some of the ways you can help to prevent your site from becoming the next target. Let us know if you’ve got any other tips for site security by commenting over on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.


Feature image: Roman Makedonsky/