Tackling Instrument Theft in the Construction Industry - 31/03/2020


Instrument theft is a growing concern for the construction industry, with many businesses vulnerable to opportunistic criminals. Yet in 2019, only 61 incidents were reported to the authorities in the United Kingdom. This low reporting rate is having a detrimental impact on the industry, as it means that the scale of the issue may not even be fully understood and as a result finding a solution to the problem is difficult.

What Makes the Construction Industry Vulnerable to Instrument Theft?

The construction industry is a prime target for thieves, thanks to the use of expensive equipment and the low rate of lost and stolen instrument recovery, with total stations in particular targeted due to their high value. While advanced technology allows users to operate total stations from a distance, it also leaves the devices vulnerable and gives thieves more opportunity. The low rate of instrument recovery also enables thieves to escape punishment and acts as a deterrent for people when it comes to reporting incidents.

In 2019, the majority of reported thefts occurred at sites near the roadside, with many sites failing to take extra security measures to protect equipment. Many companies choose not to pay for expensive additional security such as CCTV, bright lighting or even security guards. Common preventative efforts, like padlocks on tripods, are also often not substantial enough to stop thieves.

How Can Instrument Theft be Prevented?

In an ideal world, construction professionals would know where all of their tools are and would be able to monitor them remotely, providing extra peace of mind that, should equipment be stolen, it could easily be tracked. Certain tracking technology already exists to monitor total stations, whereby construction professionals can manage their equipment online, tracking which project the total station is on and how many hours it has been used for.

Topcon’s TSshield 3.0, for example, provides remote security for construction assets with more advanced features for complete remote management. The invention of geofences, for example, is a prime example of advanced technology supporting instrument security. Allowing users to draw a map of construction sites, the technology ensures that if equipment is removed from that area, it is locked so that it becomes unusable. Time fences are another technological solution, guaranteeing total stations are shut down outside of the hours that construction professionals want to use them, making them ineffective for thieves.

Collaboration Within the Industry

In order to analyse incidents of instrument theft and follow up on reported cases, the Survey Association, the trade body for commercial survey companies in the UK, has partnered with crime prevention company Smart Water. Figures collected by the partnership show that the average cost of reported equipment stolen in 2019 was £18,000 but, with many incidents going unreported, the true cost to the industry remains unknown. With instrument theft a growing issue, the construction industry needs to make sure it is taking the appropriate measures to protect equipment in order to defend against significant losses.

Rachel Tyrrell, secretary general at The Survey Association, explained: “You don’t have to be a TSA member to report equipment theft through our portal. The flow of comprehensive, quality data helps to highlight the UK’s crime hot spots to the national intelligence unit of the police, ultimately leading to arrests, the recovery of stolen instruments and disruption of organized criminal activity.”

With new breakthroughs in instrument security helping to reduce crime rates on-site, technological innovation is also key to tackling the problem. Construction professionals need to plan ahead when it comes to on-site security to ensure that equipment is not left vulnerable and easily accessible for criminals, and technology is available to help. The construction industry needs to work together to innovate and find new solutions to ensure that projects are not disrupted and money lost as a result of opportunistic thieves.

Last updated: 07/04/2020