According to some insurance companies, tool theft on construction sites cost more than $1 million each year. But, the National Equipment Registry (NER) places that figure even higher, at more than $1 billion dollars annually.
The NER figure may be more accurate as theft of smaller power tools and equipment are often not reported to insurance. Sometimes, going through the claims process with the insurer seems more bother than it’s worth. But, replacing stolen tools, even less expensive hand tools, adds up and eats away at a company’s profits.
Replacement costs aren’t the only expense, however. Time and productivity lost due to tool theft must also be considered. When workers don’t have tools readily available, it decreases efficiency and potentially adds time for job completion. With many jobs, missing a deadline can mean penalties, fines and lost contracts.
Tools aren’t the only items subject to construction job site theft. Materials used in the installation of various systems are also at risk. For example, copper products used in plumbing and electrical systems are tempting targets for theft. Other metals such as brass and aluminum are often stolen and sold for instant cash as well.
How to prevent tool theft
There are several methods contractors and site owners use to help deter tool and equipment theft. Some of these are fencing, signage, site lighting and video monitoring. In some cases, security guards patrol the area.
However, there are inherent problems with these measures. While they seem proactive, the contractor is relying on a third-party solution to deter theft. If thieves want to steal tools and equipment, they will find a way to thwart these safeguards.
In fact, according to a report by Great American Insurance Group, thieves have studied construction industry practices and know when to strike. An estimated 90% of thefts take place between 6 p.m. on Friday and 6 a.m. on Monday. Measures must be taken to prevent these weekend thefts, when construction job sites are often unattended.
The best way to do that is using sturdy, job site toolboxes and cabinets. Job boxes are the construction site equivalent to a bank vault. During work hours, they keep the tools organized and accessible. After hours, they secure the contractor’s tools and supplies. Designed to withstand all weather conditions, job site storage boxes can be left onsite for extended periods of time.
What to look for in a job site box
Careful consideration must be given to purchasing a job site toolbox. Low quality, less expensive versions can be purchased from home improvement outlets and some discount stores. However, these are not adequate. For a professional contractor, they prove to be anything but economical.
According to Matt Jones of LEC Products, heavy-gauge sheet steel and reinforcements are a must for box floors and sides. LEC Products is a fabrication company, specializing in job site boxes and cabinets. They use 14- and 16-guage sheet metal for walls, doors, lids, and shelving.
The thicker gauge metal also adds some extra weight to the finished product. In effect, it becomes an unseen deterrent to tool theft.
Thicker steel also stands up better to the rigors of construction site use. A box will be subjected to a lot of wear and tear onsite and the heavy gauge steel and reinforcements protect the contractor’s investment by securely housing his tools.
The type of steel used in manufacturing makes a difference as well. Hot-rolled steel is more malleable than cold-rolled and allows for more complex bends without weakening the steel when making box components.
Design characteristics that enhance security and usability
Many contractors chain their job boxes to support beams for added security. This usually means looping the chain through the handles.
A better design includes a key slot in the back. After looping the chain around the pole, both ends of the chain are passed through the slot and secured from the inside. This eliminates an exposed padlock, often the weakest link. Several boxes can be ganged together as well.
Removing the center trunnion in cabinet style boxes allows easy removal and replacement of longer items. Workers are more likely to store these items and not leave them lying around.
However, if choosing this option to further secure tools, be sure to inspect the latch system first. It should be fitted with a three-point latching mechanism such as the one LEC Products uses. A hook secures doors together, while vertical rods pass through the top and bottom rails.
Furthermore, ensure the locking system is robust. A hasp and padlock is not an option for security. The padlock is too easily defeated by bolt cutters or torches. The best system utilizes a thick steel plate cover to protect the padlock while still permitting easy use of the key.
Caster attachments designed for safety and security
All commercial job site boxes are designed to accept casters. This allows the contractor to move boxes to a convenient onsite location without forklifts or other powered equipment.
But, most casters must be bolted onto the box. During transportation, this can cause box instability on the trailer. Extra care must be used when securing the box or cabinet.
LEC Products’ casters are bolted onto steel plates, which are then slid into receivers built into the feet of the job box. This allows the boxes to be transported to the site safely, directly contacting the trailer bed surface. Once on site, the boxes are removed from the trailer and while the box is still suspended, the casters are quickly slid into place.
Once they are rolled into position, the box ends can be lifted slightly, and the casters removed for storage in the job box. An added benefit is that one set of casters can be used for several job boxes, saving money.
Save money on purchase, not quality
A well-built job site box is an investment, not just an extra cost. Nevertheless, contractors still want the most economic option available. For this, savings can be realized by finding a manufacturer that does not sell products through distributors.
“Many job site boxes are sold through distributors or retail outlets and additional costs are tacked on to the overall price,” explained Jones. “Buying direct can reduce the cost or it can allow a contractor to get a higher quality, more secure box to protect valuable tools and equipment.”