One in six construction companies in Flanders had to deal with thieves on their building sites in 2021, a survey by Bouwunie, the regional union of SMEs in the sector, found.
In more than half of cases (56%), small equipment was stolen but raw materials are also becoming increasingly popular among robbers, Jean-Pierre Waeytens, managing director of Bouwunie, said in a statement.
"Construction materials and machines have always been popular with criminals. Now that the prices of materials are so high, they are naturally an extra target," he explained.
Construction site theft has always been a common crime in Belgium, but in recent years, the number of incidents has decreased slightly. In 2018, one in four construction companies was victim of a site theft. "A positive decrease," said Bouwunie. However, just one in three companies report such thefts, meaning the figure will really be higher.
Materials being stolen results in considerable setbacks, ranging from delays to work to, in the worst case, having to shut down the site.
Bouwunie found that in nine out of ten cases, thefts occurred outside working hours. As the construction summer leave season is in sight, the union called on companies to be extra vigilant and take preventative steps to avoid thefts.
"Close building sites properly and secure storage areas. You can certainly also ask the police to keep an eye on things," a statement read.
Just four in ten construction companies are insured against theft, with many considering it too expensive. "Insurance is not cheap, but it is worth it when you are the victim of theft," said Waeytens.
Bouwunie added that keeping sites well lit and installing emergency lighting with movement sensors and/or cameras is an important step for deterring thieves.
During construction holidays, companies can also ask local police to include sites in their patrol schedule to keep an eye on things. Finally, limiting the number of entrances and exits, erecting temporary fences, and locking up or taking away materials are other preventative measures.