Canada

Theft of heavy equipment costing construction industry millions

A major Canadian construction association is warning its members to take better steps to prevent the theft of heavy equipment.

A major Canadian construction association is warning its members to take better steps to prevent the theft of heavy equipment. The Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association says increased theft is costing millions of dollars every year.

Laurent Leblanc, who owns an Ottawa construction company, had a $275,000 front-end loader disappear off his lot one weekend a few years ago. "We parked all machines on this side," he said. "On Saturday one of the machines was gone."

Leblanc tracked the machine down a few days later after somebody saw it heading down the highway on a flatbed truck. "It was headed down the highway toward Toronto, or the Quebec side."

Construction equipment theft is big business in Canada. Thieves are stealing everything from front-end loaders to bulldozers. The cost to the industry in Ontario alone, according to the OSWCA, is enormous.

"This increase has been so dramatic that some contractors are having difficulty finding insurance. The Ontario Provincial Police estimate that each year between $15 and $20 million worth of heavy construction equipment is stolen," says a notice on the organization's website.

Across Canada the cost to the industry is estimated at $46 million per year.

George Kleinsteiber, a former police officer who is now North America's leading expert in construction theft, says Canada's construction boom means there's lots to steal.

Organized crime has moved onto the building sites: Canadian equipment and materials are ending up everywhere from Russia to the Middle East.

"We have a lot of equipment that is being stolen by people who have a shopping list of what they have been told to steal in North America," he says.

Kleinsteiber works with the OSWCA trying to alert the public and industry to the problem. Companies are being encouraged to install global positioning devices in their machinery and to work closely with Crimestoppers.

The problem in Canada is three times worse than in the United States and it is the consumer who ends up paying for the loss.

"It really does hurt the construction company, but also the owner and homeowner and the building owner, because these are pieces of equipment that need to be replaced, which adds time [to the construction schedule]," said Jeff Morrison of the Canadian Construction Association.