The Impact of Crime and Corruption in the Construction Industry

August 15, 2022

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Fans of American HBO drama, ‘The Sopranos’, are invariably fanatical enough they can recall most sequences from the series. Among the more memorable are those that take place on the construction sites the fictitious crime family operate within.

In Episode 2 of Season 4, Capo arrives at one of the sites in his Range Rover and following a colourfully worded exchange of pleasantries gestures to reels of cables, unsure of their purpose. A crew member informs him that they’re fibre optic cables and “worth a lot of money”. A knowing exchange of glances is shared between all present and the cables soon disappear.

If we peel away the bravado and sharp-talking that made the scene so memorable, we’re left with a situation that is all too real. In their 2014 Fighting Corruption and Bribery in the Construction Industry report, PwC revealed that 76% of executives surveyed had experienced asset misappropriation – the theft of construction materials – within the last 24 months.

Meanwhile, research undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Building found that 21% of respondents surveyed claimed their construction sites were robbed on a weekly basis with 38% reporting they suffer crime-related losses of at least £10,000 a year.

In this piece, we look at some of the most common acts of criminality perpetrated against the industry and how you can ramp up your construction site security to ensure that your business avoids becoming a statistic.

 

Asset Misappropriation

It is perhaps unsurprising that the construction industry has always suffered greatly from asset misappropriation. Many of the materials used in construction can be easily and covertly moved off site and, particularly with the price of materials at an all-time high, can be sold with little difficulty.

Moreover, asset misappropriation doesn’t always take the form of theft as we generally understand the term. Rather than simply removing materials from a site, untrustworthy sub-contractors have been known to quote for a certain type of material, only to have inferior and cheaper variants delivered to the job.

As buildings are designed with specific materials in mind, if sub-standard alternatives are used in their construction, the risk to structural integrity is grave.

Overall, theft from construction sites costs the industry millions of pounds every year. Aside from the expenditure needed to replace stolen materials or machinery, serious incidents of theft cause contract delays, damage productivity, necessitate interim plant hire fees, and can lead to increased insurance premiums.

 

Vandalism

With most construction sites sealed off to the public using little more than easily scalable mesh panel fencing, they are common target for vandals. In fact, the CIOB’s Crime in the Construction Industry report found that 91% of respondents had experienced vandalism on site projects they had worked on. Almost one in 5 (18.8%) claimed it had been a weekly occurrence.

Adding to the problem for construction companies is that vandalism is especially difficult to prevent as perpetrators are either masked or target sites they suspect to be unguarded or lacking CCTV.

Vandalism can also take multiple forms. Graffiti, although a nuisance, can usually be cleaned up with little physical damage sustained to site assets. However, 74.3% of respondents to the CIOB’s survey had experienced vandalism of equipment/plant on a site project they had worked on, 78% to a construction or building, and 83.7% to materials.

 

Health & Safety Neglect

Though once a mere box-ticking exercise, since 1974, Health & Safety in the UK has been backed up by serious legislation. Violations of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) can incur fines of up to £20,000 and prison sentences of up to two years.

Despite this, 90% of respondents surveyed by the CIOB claimed to have witnessed health and safety neglect on site. A fifth of that 90% claimed it was a weekly occurrence.

Such neglect has real consequences. Over the three-year period between 2018 and 2021 there were 61,000 non-fatal injuries to construction workers and over the course of 2020/2021, 39 construction workers lost their lives.

Although it’s hard to say exactly how many of these injuries and fatalities came as a direct result of Health & Safety neglect, there can be little doubt that in some instances it will have been a contributing factor. Either way, it’s clear that the construction industry needs to do more to comply with the relevant regulations to ensure maximum prevention of unlawful incidents.

 

Onsite Intimidation or Assault

Although less common than other types of crime, a sizeable 38.2% of respondents to the CIOB’s Crime in the Construction Industry report stated that they had witnessed some form of intimidation or assault on a construction project they had worked on. Typically, these incidents were a result of onsite disagreements or from managers asserting their perceived power over workers.

Worryingly, almost a fifth (18.9%) of respondents had witnessed incidents involving firearms, knives, or other unspecified weapons.

There are various reasons why incidents of intimidation and assault are particularly common on construction sites. Among them is the lack of clarity around systems of hierarchy often evident at site level. Though foremen tend to be well known and visible, the rest of the workforce routinely confer authority among themselves, usually along lines of experience and competency. With no clear guidelines in place, conflicts can surface.

Site work can also be gruelling. Especially in inclement weather and when pressures to complete jobs are mounting, tempers can flare. These and other factors create ground for confrontation that is fertile enough that over a third of construction workers have witnessed aggressive behaviours.

 

Bolstering Construction Site Security

As we can see, the construction industry is both vulnerable and subject to a high degree of crime and corruption, and the costs are significant. With no real construction security infrastructure in place, companies face damages that can be legal, financial, reputational, and which can compromise human safety.

Some firms implement self-reporting procedures and protocols in the hope that workers will police each other. However, this is a practice which can quickly lead to collusions, suspicions, and the collapse of healthy working relationships.

Increasingly, and particularly for high stakes projects, construction firms are acquiring the services of professional, accredited security companies.

With this in mind, we now look at how such construction site security firms operate and how they can prevent the types of criminality described above.

 

Construction Site Security Guards

Of those construction firms that had previously deployed security guards onsite, the CIOB found that 62% believed them to be either effective or very effective.

There are multiple reasons that a clear majority of construction firms rate the use of security guards so highly. The first is their power of prevention. Security guards act as a highly-visible deterrent against any behaviour that results in damage to or theft of site assets and against confrontational flashpoints between workers.

However, it is essential to choose a security company that is properly accredited. At the very least, a security company should be SIA-accredited but the more accreditations it has from renowned certifiers, the better.

If you’re looking to hire construction security guards, it’s also beneficial to work with a security company that can provide multi-skilled personnel. For example, at Churchill Support Services, we provide experienced construction guards with specialist skills, including:

  • Access and gatehouse security
  • First Aid and Health & Safety trained
  • Weighbridge and Banksman trained to aid with deliveries and waste management

 

Construction Site Mobile Security Patrols

For smaller, individual construction sites, multi-skilled security guards act as both a deterrent and a resource for resolving various types of issues and incidents. Larger constructions sites, or those spread over multiple locations, need something extra as the opportunity for criminality increases with a site’s footprint.

In terms of manpower, fully-vetted security guards can deliver extensive coverage to maintain total security across a site via foot patrols, open-air security, or marked patrol vehicles. As well as a visual deterrent, mobile guards provide much faster rapid response to identified security breaches.

 

Construction Site CCTV and Surveillance

Almost two thirds (64%) of construction companies that have used CCTV to protect their sites rated them either effective or very effective, according to the CIOB. Negative experiences of CCTV tend to be reported by companies that installed their own systems and failed to manage them properly.

By using a security company specialising in video surveillance, you can access full CCTV packages from bespoke installation to round-the-clock monitoring services, all carried out by fully trained, qualified, and professional security personnel.

The efficacy of high-quality, expertly managed CCTV is well known. The cameras themselves are a 24/7/365 deterrent. Moreover, where a security breach does take place, surveillance teams can despatch security officers to the location immediately while the recorded footage provides powerful evidence should a decision be made to take further action.

At Churchill, we undertake full site assessments to ensure the best installation strategy is implemented for optimal coverage and ultimate peace of mind.

 

Bespoke security solutions with Churchill Support Services

For over two decades, Churchill Support Services have provided comprehensive security solutions to UK businesses of all sizes and with a range of unique requirements.

Whether you need mobile patrols to monitor a large or multi-location site, multi-skilled security officers to patrol on foot, or are looking for a CCTV security solution that keeps all construction assets and workers under constant surveillance, we have a proven track-record of delivery.

All of our security officers are SIA-licensed and trained to the highest standards, helping us rank in the top 1% of ACS Approved Contractors, with our services being recognised as “industry-leading”.

As the leading choice for bespoke construction security solutions in the UK, we ensure our clients can complete their projects confident in the knowledge that their sites, people, and assets are secure at all times.

 

Churchill Support Services is a leading cross-industry security provider, supplying reliable and effective construction security services across the UK.

To find out more about how Churchill Support Services can support your construction business, get in touch with us today.

Andy Farley

Operations Director

Andy is an experienced operations and sales professional with over 20 years’ experience. As Churchill Support Services Operations Director, Andy is responsible for service delivery to new and existing clients throughout the UK, managing the 24 hour control room, the supervisory team and Operations Managers, and for driving efficiencies and best practice standards within the organisation.

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