Our cost reports showed we were losing money on concrete materials. The project team claimed the loss was because the client had requested more cement in the concrete and we would claim the additional costs from the client. The months went past and the continued to increase. Eventually, the project team undertook a reconciliation of concrete materials (something that should have been done from the start of the project) and found that more than half a million dollars of cement was unaccounted for.
Further investigation found that when our drivers returned to the project site with a load of cement they made a detour, stopping off and discharging the cement from one of the tanker’s compartments, which they then sold. In fact, a third of every load of cement was being stolen from the truck en-route to the site.
Not only was there the direct cost of the stolen cement, the project also had insufficient cement due to every truck only delivering two-thirds of what they should have, and the trucks taking a couple of hours longer on each return journey because of the detour to unload cement.
By implementing suitable controls we were able to prevent further theft of cement and never ran short of cement again. But obviously, we were never going to recover the losses we had already incurred.
The many forms of theft on construction projects
Theft on construction projects takes many guises. Project sites can employ hundreds and even thousands of people from diverse backgrounds. Some of these employees are employed directly by the contractor while many are employed by subcontractors and suppliers working for the contractor. But often the client has their own workers on the project and they also even employ other contractors. Project sites can sometimes be difficult to secure as they can cover large areas and ongoing work can prevent the erection of permanent fencing. Equipment and deliveries are constantly entering and exiting premises.
However, theft takes a multitude of forms and includes lots of white-collar crime. In fact, fraud often accounts for more theft than the direct theft of materials.
Some forms of theft on construction include:
- Theft from the site which could include; equipment, tools, materials. Sometimes the theft is even items that have already been built into the project, such as electrical cable, which often causes damage to other items, and additional work to reinstall and repair the damages.
- Theft of delivery trucks – equipment and material are stolen from delivery trucks while they are parked at rest stops on the way to the project.
- Suppliers short delivering materials – this could include not delivering the quantities on the delivery note. I have regularly caught suppliers short delivering concrete and concrete materials.
- Suppliers invoicing for materials that weren’t delivered or double invoicing for the same item or charging more than the agreed rate on the order.
- Subcontractors invoicing for work they haven’t done or charged more than the agreed price.
- The unlawful use of company assets – for example, employees using equipment for their own projects either at home or where they are reimbursed directly by another client.
- Employees depositing payments meant for the company into personal bank accounts. We even had one accountant open a bank account with a similar name to our company so that they could direct clients to pay their invoices into this account.
- Employees accepting bribes to falsify payments and accounts.
- Employees falsifying travel and petty cash claims so they are paid more than they are entitled to.
When we have theft we often only consider the direct cost of replacing the item. But the cost is often more than this. The cost may include:
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