Preventing heavy equipment theft 'almost as easy as stealing,' say experts

With five heavy equipment thefts in the province already in 2019, two experts have a little advice for owners and operators.

Owners, operators need to take steps to deter thieves

A front-end loader was left outside a BMO branch on Newfoundland Drive, after the machine was used to break into the bank Jan. 20. (John Gushue/CBC)

Stopping heavy equipment thefts like those that have plagued the northeast Avalon this year is possible — but it requires a commitment from both owners and operators, say industry risk experts.

On Feb. 18, burglars used a backhoe to smash into Landings Restaurant in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's and swipe its ATM. That marked the fifth time so far this year heavy equipment has been used in thefts in the area.

"First of all, it is a relatively easy device or a machine to steal," said Fred Muldowney-Brooks, vice-president of Risk Services at Northbridge Insurance, a Canadian commercial insurer.

That ease comes from an industry norm: master keys. Anyone can buy them, and they generally work on any machine of the same brand. But despite the ubiquity of such keys, Muldowney-Brooks said, equipment theft is far from inevitable.

"Preventing thefts is almost as easy as stealing," he said.

"There are kill switches for batteries, fuel disconnects, cab covers that you can put on and lock the windows," among other things, he said, listing off a dizzying array of interventions from GPS trackers to to tire deflators, and locks on everything from steering columns to hydraulic cylinders.

The more layers of theft protection, the better, said Muldowney-Brooks.

Onus on employees, owners

But those protective measures only work, Muldowney-Brooks said, if staff "buy in."

"The biggest thing to change in any company is to get people to actually follow the protocols," he told CBC News.

"You can put all these things in place, but if the individual is not going to get out of the cabin and actually lock down that piece of equipment before walking away, then the equipment is still vulnerable."

Fred Muldowney-Brooks, left, and George Kleinsteiber both say theft prevention measures work only if people use them. (CBC)

A retired OPP officer turned heavy equipment theft consultant agrees.

"Each time they shut that machine down, they need to be thinking about how to protect it from theft," said George Kleinsteiber

"What do I need to do to make sure the machine is immobilized so that no one can take it?"

Thieves used heavy machinery to smash into businesses on the northeast Avalon and steal an ATM four times in one week in January. (CBC)

Kleinsteiber extends that responsibility to the equipment owners themselves, who in his experience, don't invest enough in theft-prevention devices.

"They always think it will be somebody else's machine so they don't go to that second step in trying to prevent their machine from being stolen," he said.

"They'll walk out of the door with a $100,000 piece of equipment with no anti-theft immobilized system in that machine at all."

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