construction materials theft

How to Prevent Pilferage of Your Construction Materials

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Very recently, news broke that the Kenya Police had reportedly nabbed a theft ring in Nandi County for stealing an array of construction materials. They subsequently recovered more than 400 bags of cement, and about 637 roofing sheets, among other construction materials.

Well, that was barely a month after they arrested yet another ring in Murang’a- with construction materials worth over Kshs 3 million. Surprisingly, this particular group of thieves involved even an Administration Police officer, who’d possibly been contracted to secure one of the affected building sites.

Now, it turns out the trend of stealing construction materials doesn’t affect only small sites and construction companies in Kenya. Even the seemingly secure large-scale projects are invariably targeted.

Case in point– SGR construction materials worth millions of shillings were allegedly recovered from an MCAs home in June 2017. The DCI claimed that they had been pilfered directly from an SGR project yard in Nairobi.

Well, admittedly, these are only a few of the reported cases- just a tip of the iceberg. The whole point is, theft cases involving construction materials have been increasing quite exponentially. And they continue to affect both private plus government sites.

But why?

Construction sites in Kenya are, undeniably, easy targets for all forms of theft. Even when you secure your project site against external thieves, inside jobs are still considerably prevalent. Construction workers, contractors, suppliers, and other parties are exceedingly stealing from their clients.

Going by various governmental and non-governmental crime reports, it’s emerging that the building industry is losing billions of shillings to thieves every year. And sadly, the numbers are still growing as pilfers progressively develop their tactics.

That said, further analysis reveals that pilferage of construction materials alone takes up about 25-30% of your overall project expenditure. Probably even more if your site is poorly secured.

However, while it can be fairly challenging, protecting all the construction materials on your site is quite possible. We’ll reveal some of the proven aversion strategies you can use.

But first, let’s explore all the common forms of theft affecting sites and construction companies in Kenya:

Forms of Construction Materials Theft

Just like construction fraud (which we covered in detail here), theft typically takes numerous forms. Some of the common ones include:

  • Pilferage From The Construction Site – Outsiders and some project workers occasionally steal construction materials, tools, and equipment from project sites.

In some cases, installed fittings are ripped directly from buildings before project close-out, and subsequently resold to hardware shops.

  • Suppliers Short Delivering Materials – Dishonest suppliers have devised tricks for adjusting quantities, and consequently short-delivering various materials.

Sand, for instance, is commonly sprinkled with water to make it denser. And as a result, the corresponding truck tonnage increases quite substantially.

construction sand trucks

Other construction materials that are frequently short delivered include building stones, ballast, concrete, formwork timber, etc.

  • Theft Off Delivery Trucks – A supplier might load construction materials into a truck, only for the delivery crew to steal some of it midway.

We’ve, for example, heard of transporters who typically divert off course to offload portions of sand from their trucks. Then to cater for the resultant quantity deficit, they usually dig up the remaining sand with shovels- through a method they call “kuongeza hewa”.

The Potential Losses from Theft of Construction Materials

Over the long haul, the persistent theft of construction materials incurs developers and construction companies in Kenya losses in the form of:

  • The actual cost of replacing stolen items.
  • Additional delivery costs while transporting replacements to project sites.
  • Lost time while project teams wait for the replacement of stolen construction materials.
  • Labor costs during the reinstallation of pilfered fittings.
  • Extra works for mitigating damages caused by thieves.

How to Prevent Pilferage of Construction Materials

Capitalize on Digital Asset Tagging and Record Keeping

Let’s face it. The traditional paper-based method of tracking equipment and construction materials is incredibly ineffective. Plus, of course, it’s labor intensive and might even add to your overall construction costs.

That said, the most reliable approach here is leveraging a comprehensive asset tagging and stock control management system. Mosaic, for instance, is a dynamic multifaceted software that Integrum, plus several other construction companies in Kenya, use to track construction materials and equipment in real-time.

We essentially tag items with barcodes and RFID tags once they are delivered to site. Then throughout the project period, we follow up via a mobile app to establish the precise positions and quantities of all the tagged items.

construction materials tagging

In the event anything is issued to a site worker, the system further allows you to specify the recipient’s details. That way, you’ll be able to track the movement of all the materials and tools at any time and from any location, as long as your device is connected to the web.

Plan Delivery of Supplies on an As-Needed Basis

While it admittedly reduces the logistical burden, supplying construction materials in bulk might also be detrimental to your project. Having extra items lying around your site increases your risk potential, and you might end up losing them progressively. In most cases, theft occurs gradually in small bits spread out over the entire project period.

So, to avoid that, consider scheduling delivery of supplies on an as-needed basis. The only challenge here, of course, is the high level of logistical coordination it requires. But, with a solid planning and communication framework, you should be able to maintain a smooth supply system without any project delays.

Set Up a Strong Security Framework

While some of these security measures might seem obvious, you’d be surprised that most construction sites don’t bother implementing them. And for the few that do, their resultant systems turn out to be vulnerable because they lack the requisite comprehensiveness.

That said, it takes a complete security framework to safeguard your construction materials. You should methodically combine various antitheft systems to protect the construction site from both internal and external thieves.

In essence:

  • Keep records of each construction worker’s arrival and departure times.
  • Document the serial numbers of every single equipment.
  • Have certified security guards on site 24/7.
  • Install video surveillance to monitor entrances, exits, and the perimeter.
  • Install a temporary alarm system.
  • Lock up all the accessories, tools, and equipment in a secure location.
  • Fence your construction site accordingly, and keep the gate locked at all times.
  • Have your construction manager inspect all the site activities on a regular basis.
  • Ensure the construction site is well-lit at all times.

Conduct Thorough Background Check of All Engaged Parties

Construction is a holistic process involving multiple parties and stakeholders. Although construction material theft cases are typically blamed on site workers, everyone is a potential culprit. In fact, when you come to think of it, the biggest heists are pulled off by multiple well-coordinated parties.

So, while you conduct background checks of your construction workers, include even the guards, suppliers, transporters, and supervisors. Get in touch with their former employers to find out how they handled their previous projects.  

On-Site Construction Management

All in all, nothing is as effective as a well-implemented construction management framework.

Apart from full-time supervision of all the project works, a construction project management firm should help you come up with a systematic procurement plan, coordinate deliveries, assess quantities, monitor overall usage, appraise costs, and seal all the potential loopholes in your project. You’ll even get detailed financial and progress reports to keep tabs on your entire construction project.

onsite construction management


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