Power tools are the most stolen item from building sites and workers in the construction trade, with small traders suffering most from crime in the industry.

A national security equipment installation and servicing company has found that smaller, easy-to-fence items are more likely to be stolen, but there are still significant numbers of thefts of large plant and machinery.

The Yorkshire-based company says that while site and contractor van security has improved greatly in recent years, the “inside job” is still one of the major risks to any building site. surveyed 75 building firms, from large companies down to sole traders, and found that the ten most stolen items in 2015 were:

  1. Power tools
  2. Bags of cement
  3. Ladders
  4. Plant machinery
  5. Wheelbarrows
  6. Building materials and other supplies
  7. Cable
  8. Metals
  9. Personal items – radios, phones, cash
  10. Hand tools

Ratcliffe notes that power tools are far and away the most vulnerable item because they have a high resale value, and they’re usually very portable. Such is the specialised nature of the stolen goods, they can only be resold to rogue traders looking to equip themselves cheaply and with little care to the crime victims in their own profession.

“A determined gang of thieves can steal thousands of pounds worth of decent quality gear from a single trader and put him out of a job for months,” he says. “Even taking every precaution to safeguard your property, it only takes a minute with your guard down for your livelihood to be taken away.

“Buying stolen professional tools on the quiet isn’t a victimless crime.”

While targeted theft from contractors is a major problem, the biggest proportion of construction industry crime comes from theft of supplies, materials and plant from building sites. Unfortunately, no site manager can rule out the risk of the “inside job”, says.

“Only a proportion of this kind of activity is ‘dead of night’ thieving,” Ratcliffe says, “Instead building sites haemorrhage material through petty theft and stealing-to-order.”

These stories from victims of construction industry crime speak volumes:

“Like the sign on the van, I never keep tools in there overnight, and they’re always well secured at other times. Instead, someone broke into the van when I parked up at the supermarket on the way home. £3,000 lost in 20 minutes, we couldn’t have a holiday because I had to buy new gear.” – Barry, sole trader

“We always have to budget in a little bit of theft of materials, because you can’t stop the odd opportunist thief. But one job was losing metals, cable and supplies hand-over-fist, almost like they had a shopping list. That probably means somewhere there’s a house built out of our profits.” – Terry, company manager

“I hate it when the small stuff goes missing, like your radio or mobile phone. That means you are working with a thief, and I don’t like that. It happens too much.” – Pavel, bricklayer

Ratcliffe says that sometimes extreme measures have to be taken to protect property. One study in 2011 found that painting plant and equipment pink deters thieves, as it makes it harder to sell on.

“Of course, if everybody painted their gear pink, we’d all be back to square one, which is why technology such as smart water is so effective,” he says. Scaffolding companies know this to be the case, with each local company using a different colour, meaning that stolen equipment is easily identified.

“Construction sites can be chaotic places, which make the ideal for the criminal,” says Ratcliffe. “All it takes is equating crime just as high as safety, and we can save both personal livelihoods and company profits.”