On site security: Rich pickings

Contractors should never be complacent about site security

Increasingly hi-tech measures are being used to keep construction sites secure.
Increasingly hi-tech measures are being used to keep construction sites secure.

The construction industry in the Middle East is estimated to be worth more than $3tn, and the sheer amount of machinery, tools MEP equipment, glass and other building materials that are left lying around on building sites can be a prime target for thieves.

Although stricter laws and generally lower levels of crime mean that the GCC hasn’t suffered as greatly as other parts of the world – in the UK alone theft costs the industry $800mn a year – the temptation of materials, plant and machinery remains a concern.

In recent months this has been hammered home. A 17-member gang involved in the theft of building materials from construction sites, vehicles and household appliances were arrested by police. And a construction worker was jailed for a year for stealing over $3,000 (AED12,000) worth of electric cables from a warehouse in Jebel Ali.

As well as the direct costs of replacing the stolen goods, there is also the indirect cost incurred through increased insurance premiums, rental costs to replace stolen equipment and lost productivity.

Delays in production can also result in hefty fines from clients and damage to a company’s reputation.

Mark Warrington, HSE manager for Atkins in the UAE, said: “There are cases of theft from sites where Atkins is working, but these are usually isolated, where opportunists have taken materials in small quantities which are then sold on the black market.

“Organised large-scale theft is definitely much less of a problem in the Middle East, which reflects the general security condition of the region.”

Backhoes and skid steers are the most common pieces of equipment stolen from construction sites because they can be easily transported and resold for tens of thousands of dollars depending on their condition, make and model.

Copper is another hot commodity for theft. Large quantities of copper can be found at construction sites due to its numerous applications in a variety of building materials.

Copper tubing is used in plumbing and heating applications, while copper wire is found in electrical and communications cables as well as for other architectural uses such as roofs and wall claddings. With the price of copper currently trading at $6,539.5 per tonne, it is easy to see why the metal is a popular target among thieves.

Warrington said: “One of the most common items stolen from sites is electrical cable where the copper wire can be collected and then sold illegally as scrap. Small amounts taken regularly over time result in a healthy reward to the thief, especially considering the low wages paid to construction workers in the region.”

He added: “There have been isolated cases of theft when a project security fence has been breached and a break-in has occurred.

“This happened recently on an Atkins project where local residents were gaining access to take timber for firewood. The local police were involved and Atkins worked with the contractor to develop daily security patrols where damage is documented and repaired immediately.”

However, theft is just one of the issues affecting the security of construction sites, which can also be subject to vandalism and arson; attacks on construction workers; planting of bombs; hostage-taking; use of construction sites to commit suicide; and as a venue for protesters.

Indeed, sites containing half-built homes on projects in Bahrain have been booby-trapped by dissidents over the past year, leading police to call on contractors to maintain vigilence.

This can be done in many ways. On larger sites, a round-the-clock physical presence – backed up by technology – works well. However, this is not always affordable, and in many cases simply bolting the gates and locking up machinery may not be sufficient.

Security options include CCTV cameras, digital video recorders (DVR), intruder and alarm systems and personalised access control.

James Kelly, chief executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), said it is important to contain the threat.

“Discussing construction site security in the context of threat containment around the perimeter, it is important that gates and other perimeter openings are designed in such a way that they permit effective control, and blocking, of inbound and outbound vehicular traffic,” he said.

“This is particularly critical given the wide variety of outside contractors that require frequent access to such sites.

“In light of this it is recommended that busy and/or high value projects should think about adopting traffic control measures, such as gates or mobile bollards. Consideration would also be given to secure storage for high value tools and equipment when a site is unmanned or only partially manned out-of-hours.”

As work escalates in Dubai ahead of the Expo in 2020 and while neighbouring Qatar ramps up construction for the 2022 World Cup, the need for security has arguably never been greater.

And the challenges associated with that are also grand.

Frank Kubitschek, country director (Iraq) for security at the Olive Group, said: “There is the determination of cost-effective security solutions weighed against the client’s risk tolerance in an increasingly competitive market, and ambitious construction scopes of work.

“There is also the effective deterrence and detection of terrorist threat groups and activities.

“And there is the management of risks, like industrial action or violent protests, resulting from disputes and conflicting interests between construction stakeholders and local formal and informal authorities.”

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