Protecting Your Equipment by Developing an Antitheft Culture

July 1, 2002

Risk management sometimes is considered to be an extra cost that, if avoided, will increase profitability. Not investing time or money in risk management programs might save a few dollars in the short term, but in doing so you increase the risk of major financial loss and/or increased insurance costs in the long term. The steps outlined below, many of which are cost-free, are the type of things that a company with a well-managed safety policy, good management, and a motivated work force already will be doing. Not all equipment owners will be able to implement all suggestions–some will be relevant to your operation and some will not.

Start With the Basics

Here are some commonsense actions that will get you headed in the right direction:

  • Make your theft prevention policy part of your business plan and link it to incentives for employees.
  • Make sure you’ve allowed time in your employees’ day to carry out their responsibilities as outlined in the theft prevention policy.
  • Consider joining your local contractor’s theft prevention organization in order to exchange ideas and information about theft prevention and the pooling of resources. If there is no such organization, suggest forming one to your local construction association.
  • Conduct unannounced and random work-site visits to ensure nothing unusual is occurring while work is not in progress.
  • Invite and be open to suggestions from all of your employees about security and theft issues; they are on the site and know what potential problems exist.

Security Policies

Now that you have established a framework for a successful antitheft program, here are ways to give it teeth:

  • Create a written work-site security plan outlining the procedures your company will follow. Create a checklist for your initial security audit.
  • Consider hiring a guard service to monitor your work site and/or installing video surveillance systems. If you cannot afford this, ask other local businesses about sharing resources.
  • Maintain a list of employees authorized to enter/leave your work site and which people may use specified pieces of equipment. Ensure that site management and security personnel have easy access to this list.
  • Consider issuing identification cards to employees assigned to your work site; assign visitor passes to subcontractors or anyone else coming to your site for a short time. Log all visitors in and out of the site.
  • Work with local law enforcement before a theft occurs. This will allow officers to patrol more effectively as they will be aware of expected activity at your work site in off-hours and have an awareness of any projects considered to be high risk. Request that police make drive-by checks of your site after-hours and on weekends.
  • Consider keeping disposable cameras readily available at the work site for employees to photograph suspicious people possibly evaluating the site for theft.

Inventory Management

Keeping detailed records of your equipment, which can be made part of your fleet management or accounting functions, dramatically increases the chance that a stolen unit might be recovered. If you make it known that these records can readily be made available to law enforcement, this also might deter theft.

  • Keep a detailed and accurate inventory of all equipment on a given work site, including a record of equipment location assignments and the dates of delivery and anticipated return.
  • Record year, manufacturer, model number, and Product Identification Number (PIN) or serial number from actual plates/decals. When describing a unit, use actual manufacturer model names; avoid using generic terms such as “tractor” or “dozer.”
  • Register your equipment on a national database that works with law enforcement, such as the National Equipment Register ( Ask for theft-deterring decals to show thieves that this has been done.
  • Use etching tools, die stamping, or a steel punch to duplicate a unit’s PIN or other serial numbers in at least two places on the equipment, one obvious, one hidden; record the location of these numbers. This will help in the identification of your equipment and proof of ownership. Adding another number unique to you (Owner Applied Number) also will help in proving ownership.
  • Take photos of all units from all four sides. Update photos as needed (when attachments are added or removed). Photograph units on their transport trailers as well.
  • Customize the unit with unique paint colors, such as painting the roof a distinctive color or painting the unit number in large characters. Note such modifications and any decals, damage, company- or owner-applied numbers that are unique to the unit when you record equipment details to aid identification and proof of ownership.
  • To aid in the identification of a unit in the event it is recovered after a theft, record any and all numbers on the unit along with that number’s location. Be sure to include engine numbers.
  • Indicate in your records if the unit has wheels or tracks.


Your work force can be either a risk or a potential ally in combating equipment theft. Clear management procedures combined with employee incentives will make the difference between the two.

  • Prior to hiring, simple and cost-effective identification verification and background checks should be performed. Previous employers should be contacted for references but not relied upon as the sole source of verification.
  • Make it clear to employees that theft impacts the bottom line and therefore will have an effect on employee compensation. Consider an annual incentive plan that is linked to levels of, or reductions in, costs associated with theft and safety risks.
  • Clearly explain this policy in writing and discuss loss prevention programs and policies at regular safety meetings.
  • Establish a confidential reward system for information leading to recovery of equipment and a subsequent arrest. Those working on-site are the most likely to have information of this nature. Seek advice from law enforcement or legal sources on the guidelines associated with paying rewards. Alternatively, become a member of a local or national hotline reward program that can provide funding for the rewards and posters to inform employees. Even if employees do not call in, the warning signs will deter “insider” thieves.