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Protecting your business from metal theft

Metal theft is a serious and growing problem. What can you do to protect your business?

Driven by massive rises in new and scrap metal prices, metal theft is now a serious problem – and it is growing ever larger.

Last month, British Transport Police said metal theft was one of its top priorities, second only to the threat of terrorism.

Theft of metal such as brass copper and lead, driven by rising metal prices in Asia, is fuelling significant demand.

Thieves will take almost anything with second-hand scrap value. The largest losses to date have involved theft of copper piping, copper cabling and pipework, lead and electrical switchgear.

This feature outlines the whole issue and looks at what companies can do to protect their assets.

The extent of the problem

Metal thieves are regularly in the news for targeting cabling alongside railway lines, causing frustration and misery for commuters and seriously denting rail firms' back pockets, but thieves are also regularly targeting a variety of other areas – from business premises to utilities and telecoms cabling, residential properties to catalytic converters on cars.

What's more, it seems metal theft is no longer perpetrated by lone individuals – increasingly it is being organised and planned on a specialist scale.

What we know

Metal theft can happen anywhere – it is important to remember no specific geographic area or particular type of property is targeted over any other.

Nevertheless, metal theft on a large scale is more likely to happen at unoccupied properties and out-of-town buildings – making prevention a priority for duty holders at business parks – which will be empty and quiet on the weekends – and firms with warehouses, distribution centres or other buildings in remote locations.

Typically, gangs will 'test' security at an unoccupied site in advance of a larger scale theft  – gaining entry and taking a small amount, for example, before returning at a later date for a full strip-out of metals.

The effects

Customer-facing businesses see the direct effect of metal theft, either in direct cessation of services that depend upon cable and as a result of damages to premises caused by its removal – e.g. it can lead to water ingress and flooding.

There are also property owner liability issues and the risk of premises being left unsafe as a result of metal theft.

Action points

"Metal theft is a very serious problem which is escalating rapidly and costing the UK economy millions of pounds," explains David Townsend, senior underwriter, commercial property, Aviva.

"And where empty buildings are concerned, it is becoming a major problem alongside that of arson. Therefore we partiularly want to make property owners aware and help them reduce the risk of a claim."

Risk assessment

Undertaking a thorough risk assessment of your property and being alert to higher risk items that could be targets of theft is the best starting point.

This process enables you to determine what metal you have, where it is and how likely it will be a target.
Remember that metal theft can affect any part of premises, like roofs, cabling, boilers and plumbing, gates and fencing and manhole covers. Thieves will take virtually anything with scrap value.

The next step is to take action to mitigate the risk and ensure high risk metal on your premises is better protected.
It is unusual for occupied buildings to be targeted by metal thieves – normal site security and the day-to-day operations of business is usually enough of a deterrent.

But the risk is significantly increased when it comes to unoccupied properties – especially ones unoccupied over the longer term.

Possible steps

Physical protection – think about measures that will make it difficult for thieves to break into your property – like locks and bolts, razor wire and anti-climb paint.

Electronic detection – for unoccupied buildings, temporary intruder alarms that are linked to a professional manned guarding company are a good bet – they can attend a site within a few minutes of an alarm being sounded and head off further trouble.

Of course, one of the most important things you can do is look to remove or reduce the attraction, particularly after any loss.

Can any cables or other metal parts be replaced with a substitute, for example can you use fibre optic cables, non-lead flashing or plastic pipes? Can the overall level of metal stock be reduced?

Going forward

Metal theft is now on the government agenda as a major problem and together with the police and a number of other organisations is developing ways of dealing with it.

Earlier this year a pilot scheme was launched in the north-east that saw scrap metal sellers being required to provide proof of identity, such as a passport or national ID card, along with a utility bill less than three months old.

Lord Henley, the Home Office minister for crime prevention and anti-social behaviour reduction, has suggested that existing scrap metal legislation is no longer sufficient to deal with what is an increasingly organised crime.

"We are examining what changes to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 are needed," he has said.

Further reading

See Aviva's Hardfacts sheet on metal theft.ADNFCR-2134-ID-801299030-ADNFCR