Plant machinery

It is estimated that millions of UK pounds worth of plant machinery is stolen nationally every year. The effects of plant equipment theft go beyond the replacement of stolen equipment as the loss of equipment can affect victims’ day-to-day work schedules.

Police and advisory groups representing all interests in the plant industry are working to tackle the problem of plant thefts.

What to do when you are buying or hiring

The information below provides manufacturers, owners, hirers and users of plant equipment, including agricultural equipment, with practical advice on crime prevention measures that can help to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of plant theft.

Buying or hiring?

Ask the seller to let you have the plant identification document, which will contain the item’s unique identification numbers and the serial numbers of other parts. If the equipment does not have a plant identification document, consider using a standard format as used by the Construction Industry Theft Solutions (CITS).

  • If you are buying second-hand equipment, check with a recognised police-approved private company database beforehand to find out who owns it. This will help reduce the amount of stolen plant equipment in circulation.
  • If you are hiring the equipment, make sure you get a hire agreement. This should contain a full description of the plant, including serial numbers and information about what you should do if the equipment is stolen.

Marking and registration

Painting equipment in your corporate colours will make it less attractive to thieves.

  • Mark parts with a unique number. The more parts you mark with a unique number, the easier it will be to identify them if the equipment is stripped down.
  • Consider fitting a secure plate bearing your company’s details and/or a unique identifier, and a 24-hour telephone number so that the police can call you to check plant equipment they see on the move.
  • Record all equipment and attachments in a company plant asset register.
  • Register items with an approved recognised database. An example of this is the police-approved industry-owned initiative the CESAR (the Construction Equipment Security and Registration) Scheme (opens new window), which sets the standard for marking and registration, and was designed specifically to reduce theft and aid the recovery of stolen equipment (see below for additional information on CESAR marking systems).

Moving plant machinery from depot to site

  • Give the driver a conveyance note with full delivery instructions and a contact telephone number. The conveyance note should be an original and not a photocopy.
  • Make sure the delivery driver knows who should be receiving the equipment and asks that person to sign the conveyance note on receipt.
  • It should be routine practice for delivery drivers to check back with their dispatcher should they receive revised delivery instructions either by telephone or from someone at the delivery address.
  • Update the company plant register with details of where the plant has been sent and the person responsible for its safekeeping.
  • Record movements of plant between sites.

What to do on-site

Appoint a responsible employee, preferably at management level, to manage the equipment at each site. This will usually be the site manager or agent (plant hire companies will not supply an employee to do this).

Make sure there are secure storage areas for plant machinery that has to be left on-site overnight, and use them.

On-site security

  • Staff should be aware of the security practices for each site. Display security posters on site to show the company’s commitment to preventing crime.
  • Constantly review security measures on-site and how each item is secured.
  • Remove ignition keys when the plant is not in use. Do not leave them in the machine.

Make sure that all security devices supplied with the plant are always used. Think about using the following devices:

Physical restraints

These are specifically designed for the plant and can lock:

  • Steering mechanisms.
  • Excavator and crane booms.
  • Stabiliser legs.
  • Tow hitches.
  • Tracks and wheels.

For small and mid-sized equipment, physical restraints are practical and effective and their visibility acts as a deterrent. Their removal requires physical effort, time and tools and often creates noise.

Hydraulic locks

These are designed to isolate:

  • Hydraulic systems.
  • Brake systems.
  • Steering systems.
  • Gear selection systems.

Immobilisation systems

  • These prevent the unauthorised moving or use of an item and are best used for self-propelled on or off-highway equipment.
  • Systems may be activated by an electronic fob, transponder key or keypad and PIN code.
  • An advantage of immobilisation systems is that they are usually automatically set after the engine has been switched off without the user having to take any action.
  • Additional information can be found below - please see 'Types of immobilisation devices'.

Joint tracking/immobilisation systems

  • Where appropriate, consider having a Thatcham Cat 5 security system fitted. These systems send an alert if your plant machinery is stolen, track it and, by remote operation, prevent its engine from being restarted once it has stopped, under specific circumstances. More information can be obtained from Thatcham Research Centre (opens new window).
  • Make sure that all small tools and equipment are stored in a high-security cabinet or enclosure.
  • When plant machinery is no longer needed on-site, make sure it is returned to stores, the depot or the hire company. It is important to make sure that the person collecting the plant machinery is authorised – check the conveyance note. If in doubt, do not release the equipment until you are satisfied that the person is authorised to collect it.
  • Record returned plant machinery in the company plant machinery asset register and note any changes (repairs, replacement parts or damage) on the plant machinery identification document.
  • The person responsible for plant security should constantly monitor where equipment is, regardless of how much it is worth. If the equipment is stolen, you need to know what has been stolen, where from, when, how it was secured and who was responsible for the item at the time.

Site security

Before building your on-site secure compound, it is worth talking to the crime prevention officer at  your local police station, who will be able to advise you on:

  • Secure fencing around the site.
  • Security lighting.
  • CCTV and intruder alarms.
  • The location of the secure compound and site offices.
  • Security-marking small items of equipment.
  • Employing security guards.
  • Lock equipment out of sight in secure alarmed storage areas.

What to do if plant machinery is stolen

  • Act quickly and tell the local police.
  • If the equipment is insured, also tell your insurer.
  • If your equipment is registered with a commercial registration or tracking company, remember to tell them too.
  • Don’t disturb the scene of the crime until the police have investigated.
  • Try to get the names and addresses of any witnesses.
  • Make a note of the date, time and place of the theft and who saw the equipment last.

Let the police have the plant identification document so that they can enter the correct information on the Police National Computer.

  • Make, model and type of equipment lost.
  • Colour.
  • Registration number (if applicable).
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN), product identification number (PIN) and/or serial number.
  • Engine number.
  • Plant, hire or fleet number.
  • Any other identification numbers or distinctive features.
  • Description of any attachments and their serial numbers.
  • VIN or PIN.
  • Approximate value.


A machine registered with CESAR (opens new window) is fitted with a number of tamper-evident registration stickers and with its own unique identification and registration number. Along with this, a number of radio-frequency identification (RFID) transponders are hidden throughout the machine. There are also has patches of forensic liquid DNA painted on to the machine in a number of locations. When registered with CESAR, a machine is also placed on the Datatag (opens new window) secure database which gives the police and other official agencies access to the registration information around the clock to aid identification and recovery.

Note: To be able to retrieve the data easily out of hours, pre-register yourself with Datatag and this will speed up the process considerably.

Types of immobilisation devices

There are different types of immobilisation devices on the market, ranging from mechanical to diesel systems. These devices isolate hydraulic, electrical and fuel systems, preventing the vehicle from being moved. More information can be obtained from Thatcham Research Centre (opens new window) by emailing

Location and tracking systems

Location and tracking systems use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to locate stolen vehicles through satellite and cellular technologies. Information is directed to your internet-connected PC, laptop or mobile phone. The system can monitor the location, movement, engine hours and battery condition of your plant. More information can be obtained from Thatcham Research Centre using the contact details above.

Mechanical locking systems

Mechanical locking systems can be simple to fit and can be applied to different areas of the machine, including vehicle tracks, hydraulic breakers, buckets and posthole borers. More information can be obtained from Thatcham Research Centre using the contact details above.

Further information on all the above systems can be found in the related links in the column at the top right-hand side of this page.

Access and yard security

  • Keep access gates closed and locked wherever possible.
  • Consider securing access to the site overnight and during the day when unattended.
  • Consider installation of electronic remote controlled gates for ease of daily access.
  • Consider using security lighting in yards and drives.
  • Consider using formal surveillance (CCTV) to monitor your yard overnight or when the equipment is not in use.
  • Lock equipment out of sight in secure alarmed storage areas.