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Plant theft deterrents: which is right for your company?

Strategies for deterring plant thieves should include three key elements: denying the criminal access, preventing them removing a machine from site, and locating and identifying a stolen machine.

Plant theft is costing an estimated £650 million a year but there are a range of mechanical and technological devices to deter criminals, prevent thefts and locate or identify stolen machines.

According to Construction Plant-hire Association training and technical manager Haydn Steele, preventing plant theft and recovering stolen machines requires a multi-facetted approach.

He identifies three key elements; denying the criminal access, preventing them removing a machine from site, and locating and identifying a stolen machine.

Secure storage

“Where it is possible, a strong site perimeter fence deters criminals from stealing plant and also prevents trespassing and protects tools or materials left on site,” Mr Steele says.

Secure storage units such as Hall Plant’s Plantsafe and Garic’s Plantstore can supplement perimeter fencing, while security cameras from companies such as WCCTV, Camwatch and Towerlight provide remote site monitoring – and are often cheaper than manned security.

These systems can also broadcast site announcements telling criminals they are being watched and the recorded images can be used as evidence in court.


The next line of defence is preventing the machine being moved. “For all machines, an immobiliser is probably the best option,” Mr Steele says.

“They can activate automatically when the ignition is turned off and don’t rely on individuals fitting locks and bolts. The new generation of immobilisers can be deactivated by a PIN code – overcoming the problem of missing keys.

“For all machines an immobiliser is probably the best option”

Haydn Steele, Construction Plant-hire Association

Some plant manufacturers now fit immobilisers on the line and there is a wide range of after-market systems available.

Some systems are approved by Thatcham, the insurance industry’s research establishment, but according to Mr Steele there are some excellent non-approved products on the market as well.

“Plant owners and contractors know what they need for their situation and are capable of deciding if a particular system fulfils that role,” he says. “They may be less aware of how criminals try to overcome these devices: that’s where Thatcham comes in.”

There are retrofit immobilisers available from the likes of Enigma, Kosran, MC Plant Services, Meck Lock and Thiefbeaters, among others. 

Smaller plant such as mini-excavators and generators require different tactics, as they can be lifted onto a truck with a HIAB or towed away.

One strategy is to chain them to bigger machines or the use of track or ram locks, wheel clamps and towing hitch guards. “The problem here is that these rely on operators or site workers correctly fitting these devices every evening,” Mr Steele says.

Numerous companies supply mechanical security devices, including Thiefbeaters and Meck Lock, while Lincmaster markets specialist locks such as TrackLok, LegLok and BreakerLok, which secures attachments to a machine.

Tracking systems

Tracking systems are increasingly being built into the machine by manufacturers like Komatsu and there are many after-market suppliers, such as Tracker or Enigma and lesser known players such as Tag Guard, Retreve and Box Telematics.

“With a tracking system the key point is whether the system uses GPS or GSM – or preferably both, in which case it will work inside a container, underground and even overseas,” Mr Steele says.

“There can be other advantages to adopting this technology beyond deterring and defeating burglars, such as preventing vandalism and discounted insurance premiums”

Haydn Steele, Construction Plant-hire Association

Some tracking systems can remotely shut a machine down, while many allow curfews or geo-fencing and automatically raise the alarm if a machine is moved out of hours or beyond a pre-determined boundary.

However, Mr Steele says plant owners must ask potential suppliers about the level of response the police give to an alarm triggered by their system, before deciding on which unit to purchase.

Identifying stolen items can be done using covert systems such as data dots and ‘smart water’, or overtly (to also act as a deterrent) such as a distinct livery, window markings and CESAR marking.

“There can be other advantages to adopting this technology beyond deterring and defeating burglars, such as preventing vandalism and discounted insurance premiums,” Mr Steele says. This can make investing in theft deterrents cost-effective for plant owners and hirers, as well as contractors and end-users.”   

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