Tradesmen: how to keep your tools safe

Safety and insurance

17 November 2017

A survey revealed that almost 25% of tradesmen have been the victim of tool theft in the past five years, and police say incidents are rising across the UK.

The good news is that some advance preparation and a few sensible precautions can help cut your chances of being a victim either when out on the job or in your own workshop, and could minimise the impact on your business in the worst-case scenario.

Stay vigilant

Tool thefts often happen in spates in a local area, so look out for robberies in the news to ensure you're alert at the right time. It may sound obvious, but it's never been more important to keep an eye on your tools when you're on the job, and to only take the tools you need for the job at hand.

Aside from the risk of losing small bits and pieces, there have been worrying reports from Kilwinning, Ayrshire, of thieves impersonating tradesmen on site in order to steal equipment. If you regularly check on your kit, you're not only more likely to spot anything missing, you'll also deter thieves looking for an easy target.

Find a safe spot

Once the job's done, be careful where you leave your tools. A theft from a van in Newton Abbot, Devon, led police to remind tradesmen to avoid leaving tools in their vehicles if possible.

When you’re out on a job, you might not be able to control who has access to the premises or what security systems are in place, so it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your own kit. Keep them close to hand, check on them regularly and only take the tools you need if possible.

If you do need to leave your tools in your van, try and park close to a wall and back up against a garage door or another vehicle. The harder you make it for thieves, the less likely they’ll be able to access your van and steal your tools.

In your own workplace, you should lock your tools in a secure, indoor location. Use alarms, locks and safe boxes, and don't leave any loose tools lying around – thieves may use them to try and access more expensive equipment.

Secure your van

If you have to leave items in your van, whether on the job or parked up for the night, make sure it's as secure as possible. Park in a garage or well-lit area. Many thieves are opportunistic, so if you have tools inside, keep them out of sight in a boot, locked in a secure storage container or chained to the chassis. Installing an alarm and immobiliser can also put off criminals.

When locking up with a key fob or any other electronic system, remember to double check the doors are secured. Some criminals use jamming devices to block the signal, leaving your vehicle open and exposed.

Mark your tools

Thieves can be deterred or caught by clearly marking your tools, which makes them harder to sell on. Thames Valley Police recommends engraving your postcode or house name/number onto valuable items, or using paint or a permanent marker if engraving isn't possible. Your name and phone number are also useful identifiers.

High-tech solutions like DataTag, SmartWater or SelectaDNA can also be used to mark some of your more expensive tools, and a tool tracker GPS can really help the police find your stolen tools. If you register your tools with national property register Immobilise, any recovered items will be returned.

Protect your business 

The final, and most important, safeguard against tool theft is insurance. Every claim is different and is dependent on its own set of circumstances, but you should always keep a list of every item you own, complete with photos and serial numbers, and make sure they’re all covered by your insurance policy in the event of a robbery.

At a recent incident in Steventon, Oxfordshire, two brothers said they faced bankruptcy after uninsured tools valued at £80,000 were stolen from their storage facility.

It goes to show that when losing your tools means losing your livelihood, you can't be too careful.

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