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UAA: Thwarting theft

UAA is helping to reduce the rising number of thefts occurring across plant and machinery in the construction and earthmoving sectors.

Underwriting Agencies of Australia (UAA) is educating the sector on risk mitigation strategies to help staunch machinery theft claims. Roads & Infrastructure speaks with UAA’s Michelle Morrissey and George Grasso to learn more.

An increase in plant and machinery theft sparked a renewed effort by Underwriting Agencies of Australia (UAA) to educate its clients and partners around the risk of theft, as well as some of the key strategies that could help to reduce said thefts.

UAA is working to highlight the importance of preventive measures for its current and prospective clients, ensuring that they can have protection, from both a security and policy perspective.

As part of this push, UAA engaged some independent external investigators to get a better read of the industry. As Michelle Morrissey​​​​, National Claims Manager, Australia – UAA explains.

 “There is an increase in opportunistic thefts. A downturn in the industry, the economy itself and growing cost of living pressures can all play a part,” she says.

“Statistics found that in the 12 months ending 30 September 2021, that there were around 600 thefts that were reported to the police during that timeframe.” 

With a median cost of $50,000 per unit, these thefts equated to a loss of around $21,000,000.

George Grasso, UAA Group Chief Claims and Service Officer. Images: UAA.
George Grasso, UAA Group Chief Claims and Service Officer. Images: UAA.

Additional data has reflected an increase in thefts claims across Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales.

For motor vehicles, theft is also increasing in Victoria. There were 19,073 motor vehicle thefts recorded across Victoria in the year to September 2023, according to the Crime Statistics Agency. This represents an increase of 24.96 per cent (3798) from the previous year. 

Despite this sharp increase, Morrissey says there’s still optimism around the sector. Educating the industry around the increase in theft claims, as well as potential risk mitigation strategies has proven to be effective so far.

“It’s a risk to our clients ability to continue business operations,” she says. “More businesses are reaching out for risk mitigation strategies, not only for theft, but other types of damages as well, so they can reduce their exposure to potential loss.

“We’re seeing more of an increase in opportunistic thefts in the earthmoving space. That might be machinery on a site that’s close to a roadway, machinery that’s on a float trailer and easily accessible, even machines behind temporary security fencing where it’s quite easy to access the site.”

What works best?

As the mobile plant and equipment insurance specialists, UAA sees itself as an expert in its field. With 30 years of experience, the company aims to ensure that it can have an impact that goes beyond providing
 industry-tailored products.

That’s part of the reason why it’s taken up a thought leadership position in the plant and equipment theft space.

“Having a machine registered halves the threat of theft. They’re more detectable by the police and much harder to sell,” she says. “Lodging machines on the PPSR (Personal Property Securities Register) is another strategy that makes it harder for machinery to be sold on. Machinery can be quickly identified if they’ve been flagged as stolen.

“Many of our clients are dry hire entities, who are more highly exposed to theft. It’s important to research and verify the company you’re hiring these units to. Ensure they have an established reputation before delivering a machine. The greatest risk for theft is during the weekend and long weekends when machines are left unattended for long hours.”


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Morrissey adds that painting machinery in company colours and including logos can also make a difference when it comes identifying stolen kit.

“Branding and logos on machinery make these units much more identifiable. Making machinery as distinct as possible is important. Plain yellow machinery, for example, is likely to be targeted the most. Branding and distinct colours helps to make the machine less desirable,” she says.

“The more branding on the machine, the greater the reduction of theft. You might not be able to have CCTV or a person on site constantly. In order to provide some mitigation, applying branding can at least reduce some level of exposure to theft.”

Increasing the difficulty of access to machinery is a key step. Placement is another. 

Placement of the machine behind large scale objects on site can help to reduce the risk of opportunistic theft. This could be large machinery or attachments that are difficult to move around the machine. 

Michelle Morrissey​​​​, National Claims Manager, Australia – UAA.
Michelle Morrissey​​​​, National Claims Manager, Australia – UAA.

Another interesting strategy is the use of what Morrissey refers to as a GPS decoy. GPS units are usually stripped during an incident of theft. Therefore, a decoy unit ensures that the machine can still be tracked to pinpoint the location of the machine after a theft has occurred.

This also applies to eliminating the ‘common key approach’, ensuring that speciality keys are required for each individual machine.

George Grasso, UAA Group Chief Claims and Service Officer, says understanding the thought process of the potential thief is also an effective approach.

“Put yourself in the thief’s shoes as much as you can. Start thinking about what would deter them bests from stealing your equipment. That’s the type of advice that we’re providing the industry around mitigating that loss,” he says.

“That bit more effort and a little more investment into this space can certainly save you a lot of pain down the road.”

Grasso says greater industry involvement will only help to stamp down on these incidents.

“I’d love to see the industry bound together and become a bit more unified around sharing ideas and helping to mitigate this loss,” he says. “I’d like to see a greater emphasis from the police in these cases as well, which are potentially under-resourced at the moment.

“Just the broader awareness around the industry and creating a greater level of diligence and vigilance, that’s what I’d like to see the most.”

In case these risk mitigation strategies prove not to be effective, UAA is there to assist. First by utilising the assistance of independent external investigators who correspond with the police and affected party. As Morrissey explains.

“They’ll obtain police reports as well as any information from the insured,” she says. “They’ll also look into any suspicious activity, any threatening allegations and pool this together to potentially find a suspect in the matter and determine how the theft was perpetrated. If they can access the GPS data as well, they can try and find the location of the machine.” 

This information is not only helpful in solving the case at hand, but may assist to reduce the circumstances that gave rise to the theft in the future. 

“If we can provide as much information as possible to the insured party, they can utilise migration strategies to prevent a similar event occurring in the future,” Morrissey says.

“It’s very important to be as vigilant as possible, particularly when there’s greater pressures around costs of living as well. We help our clients to answer two very important questions, ‘how did this happen? ‘And how can I stop it from happening in the future?’ 

This article was originally published in the May edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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