Time to stop the tool theft epidemic

April 23, 2019

A recent storyline on the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show was of particular interest to us at Flint, because it featured the ongoing problem of tool theft from vans. This somewhat emotive topic generated many comments from tradesmen who had themselves experienced this kind of loss. Jeremy Vine quoted an annual figure of 22,749 reports of tool theft, equating to around 90 van break ins every day. On air callers expressed exasperation at the situation whereby a tradesman could see his weekly wages wiped out when valuable tools went missing. Many said that they ended up being sold for much less than what was paid for them (and worth to the owner) in pubs, car-boot sales or online auction websites. Comments about the insurers’ response were often negative, but then some did actually admit that tools had been stolen whilst their van was open with free access to the thieves. And as we have said many times, underwriters do expect every insured to do their utmost to mitigate their risks. So when the following information from insurers XL Catlin came across our desk – we wanted to share it with our clients in the hope that following this advice will help you reduce the risk of loosing the essential and often very expensive tools of your trade.

Small tools and equipment theft: Prevention best practices

Equipment theft is a significant problem in both lean and prosperous economic cycles. So significant, in fact, that an entire organisation is devoted to the deterrence, tracking, capture of statistical data related to, and ultimate prevention of equipment theft: The Equipment Register (Europe’s largest database of plant and equipment). With the improving construction economy, there are more opportunities for thieves to slip into an active job site unnoticed, take advantage of the hustle and bustle, and walk away with your items.

Large, high-valued, equipment theft attracts the majority of theft prevention and recovery efforts. As a result, there is less focus on the smaller tools and equipment. These types of equipment are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, less likely to be recovered, and are costly to a contractor in both time and money. Smaller tools and equipment are often unscheduled and carry lower values, lower per item limits and larger deductibles. Many times with smaller tools and equipment you do not notice the missing items(s) until it is needed for a task. This causes disruption and potentially uninsured hidden costs, such as additional labour, rental fees, delays, etc., that can end up costing you more than the lost item(s).

As with larger equipment theft, there are some ways to minimise exposure to loss and even prevent these types of losses from occurring in the first place. While no method can completely prevent theft occurrences, below are some best practices that can be implemented to help reduce exposure to small tool and equipment theft.

Inventory Control

The easiest thing you can do to prevent internal theft is to maintain a detailed inventory and label your equipment properly. Electronic inventory records with serial numbers, make, model, unique identification markings, along with digital photographs are good ways to keep tabs on your equipment. Utilising a sign out sheet process will keep track of who is using the tools. If you don’t record who is using your equipment, it will be difficult to know when, where, or even, if your tools and equipment are missing. Check the inventory at the start and end of each shift, and have procedures implemented so employees know how to report a theft incident to management.


Keep smaller tools and equipment locked inside a gang box when not in use to prevent easy access during daytime hours. Move smaller gang boxes to Conex boxes or other secure areas during non-working hours. Items such as small tools, welders, compressors and generators should be stored in container boxes (or equivalent) whenever possible. Larger items should be placed in areas where they are not easy to steal, such as safely rigged and elevated by a crane or stored between two larger pieces of equipment. Keep keys to smaller equipment locked in a safe or other secure location instead of hidden on or in the cab.


Securing your work site is critical to prevent theft. Investing in theft prevention devices for your equipment, trailers and Conex boxes, can be as simple as additional lighting, locks, chains, cables, and “pick and drill” resistant locks. Ball and hitch locks are inexpensive and can protect equipment mounted on trailers from being hauled away when no one is looking. Some of the more sophisticated systems, such as hydraulic locks, disconnect switches (reduced potential for theft and fire), motion detectors, vibration sensors,
surveillance cameras, GPS with “geofence” capabilities, remote lockdown/disconnect devices are also much more affordable than in the past. Advances in technology, available today, are also providing simple, inexpensive, ways to keep your tools and equipment from being easy targets. Theft prevention devices can be wireless and provide real time notifications to your cell phone while post theft technology is making it easier for authorities to identify and locate the original owners of stolen and found items. Thieves do not like to be noticed. Having your site properly secured and well-lit with a few strategically placed surveillance cameras can go a long way in protecting both your larger and easier-to-steal equipment and tools.

Employee Training

The key to all of this is employee buy-in and involvement. All employees should know that there are active inventory controls and procedures in place for reporting and documenting a theft loss. Additionally, personnel should be trained on methods for securing equipment and an accountability programme should be in place for not following procedures. Adding equipment theft exposures, prevention methods and reporting procedures to your tool box talks are good ways to keep them on the top of everyone’s mind.

Post Loss Investigation

One of the best ways to prevent recurrence of a loss is to complete a post loss investigation report. Getting the information documented in a way that attempts to gather as many facts surrounding a loss is a good way to get to the root cause of losses. If done correctly, these reports will help you identify areas of weakness and allow your team to implement new ideas for improving your overall risk management program. Though nothing can prevent every potential theft scenario, implementing these or other theft prevention controls will encourage thieves to move on to easier targets.

We hope these tips might just help prevent a loss; if you would like advice with any area of risk management or insurance call your Flint team on 0208 309 5000.

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