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Mobile plant theft on the rise

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UAA has witnessed a significant increase in mobile plant theft. George Grasso, UAA’s Chief Claims and Services Officer, discusses the issue and explains how plant owners can better protect their assets. 

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“We certainly have seen a significant increase in mobile plant theft over the last 12 to 18 months. We’ve been examining the trends that might be causing the increase but there doesn’t seem to be much real rhyme or reason to the  increase.

“The increase is involving all types of machinery, predominantly small to medium, but there have been some large pieces of kit stolen. There seems to be more activity in and around organised crime and gang-related theft. The machinery is being stolen opportunistically from environments where there is a lack of security, no CCTV cameras and a lack of vigilance from staff and owners who are not protecting the equipment appropriately,” said George.

There are issues with the machinery as well, with George saying many types having common keys.

George Grasso, UAA’s Chief Services Officer. Image: UAA.

“Having common keys is a problem. You can buy a set of 41 keys of different types of makes and models for less than $50 on eBay, it’s an industry-wide issue. The introduction of keypad ignitions instead of keys would be  useful.

“There is also a lack of GPS tracking devices being fitted and a lack of vigilance in terms of owners and staff securing machines overnight. They should be tucked into corners with larger equipment ‘boxing’ them in, or positioned in a way that makes it impossible for thieves to steal them.

“Obviously, this disturbing trend is putting a lot of pressure on customers and there is a significant loss of business as a result of theft. It is also applying a lot of pressure on insurance companies like UAA as costs continue to increase,” he said.


Alarmingly, George estimates the increase in thefts to be around 30 per cent across Australia.

“We estimate the increase to be around 30 per cent and it’s across the country. Victoria would be the worst, then Queensland, followed by New South Wales. Some of the thefts may be related to the motives of business owners who are feeling financial pressure with interest rates, inflation and fixed interest rates starting to come off and will continue to come off as the year progresses,” he said.

George explains how the increase is going to be reflected in insurance premiums.

“The ongoing increase in claims costs is certainly having an impact on premiums one way or another, either as an individual policy and or pool of insurance premiums, and particularly if we don’t have the ability to recover these machines. Sometimes you can recover them and offset the recovery costs against the claim, but if the machine is not found and there’s no recovery, that’s a 100 per cent loss on insurance and insurance portfolios. In turn, there is no option but to increase rates or look at other ways to mitigate losses by reducing certain covers. Encouraging customers to mitigate their losses or mitigate as best as they can is important, but the increase in theft is certainly going to have an impact on premiums,” said George.

George explains how customers can mitigate against the risk and what sort of measures they should be taking.

“To prevent a thief, you have to think like a thief, so look at how a piece of mobile plant could be stolen and mitigate against that as much as possible. In other words, consider what would you do to steal it, and then look to alternative mitigation and deterrent strategies to prevent that theft. All the machines in the eyes of the common person, in essence, look similar – with many being the same/similar type of structure and colour. Owners who invest to colour code equipment in their company colours present a greater deterrent.

“That way if the machines are stolen, they are more identifiable. Otherwise, it’s just another yellow machine that’s disappeared and there are tonnes of them driving or being trailered up and down roads and freeways every day and people are none of the wiser. If you paint or wrap machines, which is a more cost-effective approach these days, it makes for more of a deterrent for thieves because it’s far more identifiable.

“Customers should register their machines wherever possible, if it’s not road registered, then certainly register it through the Personal Property Securities Register. There is evidence that less theft occurs to registered vehicles/machines. A number of companies in the industry are implementing dual GPS units where one is visible, with one being a decoy and the second unit hidden further in the machine. Thieves will make every effort to locate a GPS and will find a way to remove it. They often take the path of less resistance and remove the decoy and then feel satisfied they have mitigated their own risk. However, by hiding a second unit, there is a chance the thieves won’t look further for another and you/we then have a chance to track the machine,” said George.

“But the main point is to plan against theft in the first place. There are other simple technologies such as vandalism and theft proof covers, where you fix lockable wire mesh or wire metal plates across doors and other entry points to the machines. There are also technologies available which lock the control systems. These are small investments and with planning and extra time they will save a lot of money in the long  run.

“I know people are busy and there is an ‘It won’t happen to me, or ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, as all my machines are always going to be there when I come back, or there’s a lack of concern from the staff member leaving the machine as it’s not their asset.’ It’s those times where the next morning you turn up and your machine’s been stolen.

“When you get that little intuitive voice in you to perhaps double check something, you’re better off spending the extra time at the end of the workday to position the machine where it’s difficult for it to be removed. Park another large machine in front of it or use building materials to make it difficult for a thief. Those extra few minutes could save you from the loss of the machine and the pain and expense that goes with it,” said George. 

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