Vanishing Act

Pre-pandemic, it was not unheard of for items to occasionally go missing from a job site. Whether through an honest mistake such as a worker pocketing a tool he or she believed to be theirs, or a genuine theft of materials, losses nonetheless would ultimately be a costly detriment to builders and developers. In post-pandemic culture, the landscape has become a bit drier due to product shortages and supply chain delays. Builders have recently seen large loads of valuable materials and appliances being stolen from job sites.

There are a few specific items that tend to “walk off” a construction site more often, and end up on resale platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and MaterialsXchange.


  • TOOLS. As you may guess, tools are one of the most stolen items. Small hand and power tools are incredibly easy to slip into bags, jacket pockets, or even lunch boxes. To add to the allure for thieves, they are quickly resold in a secondary market full of potential buyers looking for less costly goods.
  • LUMBER. With the prices still hovering in the stratosphere, any piles left on location are a beacon to those wishing to resell it for a profit or use it on their own personal projects.
  • APPLIANCES. When items like HVAC units, furnaces, and water heaters are installed in a new construction project, they become vulnerable once all workers have left the site at the end of their shift and are the perfect target for overnight burglary.
  • COPPER. Copper is a coveted material, and it’s easy for a thief to pilfer. Equally vulnerable are piles of old copper pipes and wire or pipes resident in the walls, ceilings, and floors of the construction project.
  • HEAVY EQUIPMENT. While backhoes, excavators, bulldozers, and other large pieces of machinery aren’t as easy to steal as appliances or tools, the profits for reselling can be staggering, and the loss can cause a job to come to a screeching halt.

In addition to the inherent inconvenience of missing materials, theft causes additional situations to arise in a domino effect. One of the most damaging resulting consequences on a job site is schedule delays. Most items on a job site are necessary, and when they go missing, they need to be replaced. If you are lucky, they are easily and quickly obtainable; however, in some cases, they are items that need to be special ordered. The same can be said for heavy machinery and appliances. When they go missing, it can take days, weeks, or even months to replace them. If the job can’t continue, the entire project timeline is knocked off course. If the project can’t reach milestones because the equipment is missing, the contractor is in danger of not receiving scheduled payments. This means they may not be able to pay subcontractors for their work; and the next thing you know, a payment dispute has broken out. Not to mention the potential tarnishing of the contractor’s reputation with clients and peers.

Stopping thieves entirely may not be possible, but there are ways to mitigate the issue. Unfortunately, most theft happens internally, and subcontractors working on several sites are aware of potential targets. Prequalify subcontractors prior to retaining their services to be sure they’re reputable. Contractors that steal are often repeating offenders, so there’s a good chance another contractor might know them and be more than willing to warn others in the business. Also, be sure to secure the job site. This can be done by installing a tall fence, floodlighting, or hiring night security to watch the site when the workers have finished for the day.

Consider protecting tools and equipment with GPS trackers and geofencing. (If this technology term is new to you, geofencing is a location-based technology in which virtual boundaries can be assigned to a geographical area in the real world. These virtual perimeters can be displayed on an indoor map and can trigger actions or alerts on entry or exit of a tagged item within the specified area.)

It is also beneficial to establish a security protocol for the job site which clearly outlines what isn’t acceptable on a project and what is. It’s helpful to mark items with notes such as “not allowed to remove scrap for personal use.” Make sure to distribute information so that all the subcontractors are aware of expectations to prevent confusion or misunderstandings.

Another obvious but effective solution is to install a security camera. They are a great way to deter a thief from stealing from a job site and can also offer police valuable information should a theft occur regardless of any precautions that have been taken. And, since most thefts occur from within, there’s a good chance the thief will be recognizable to those running the job site. If it is not possible to position the cameras to get a view of the entire site, it’s best to aim them toward lumber and materials piles, heavy equipment, and entrances to the site as well as the project that is under construction.

In light of the unfortunate reality that not all job site theft is avoidable, it is highly recommended that the contractor carries a good builder’s risk policy, such as those offered by RWC Insurance Advantage. Information on the programs offered can be found on our website: https://rwcinsuranceadvantage.com/.