Building facilities management is a broad church that would tax any warehouse management owing to its complexity and legal issues but is there one aspect more than all others which has the potential to make the difference between profit and loss? Yes, there is, and moreover it is probably the most neglected – security.

By far the highest cost factor in running any warehouse is usually the opportunity cost of goods stored, which in ultra large warehouses could see stock values run to tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds. Protecting that huge investment against fire is usually adequately conducted and effective, partly for insurance and legal reasons. But what of the more insidious threat from theft where the same strictures of insurance and legislation do not apply?

There are no reliable figures for the costs of warehouse thefts but statistics from America suggest it could run into billions of pounds every year. On an individual scale the losses can be staggering and the culprit is often the enemy within. One warehouse manager, for example, succeeded in stealing around £500,000 of confectionary from his employer’s store. Much lower down the management totem pole it would not be rare to find a warehouse floor worker with £50,000 of goods fitting out his home with goodies stolen from his workplace. Nor is it uncommon for rings to be operating within warehouses over decades.

Given that more warehouse theft can be ascribed to warehouse staff than outsiders, the need to vet and encourage new staff carefully is paramount but it must be an ongoing programme with staff trained to spot suspicious behaviour because they are the eyes and ears of an organization and by far the most important defence against crime. Post codes can help to concentrate minds as they alert businesses to parts of the country exposed to much higher levels of theft and therefore call for more robust theft defence policies.

Technology aids like CCTV, PIR sensors, access controls and motion sensors can be useful but warehouse operators, following a serious theft, should not rush into them because thieves often argue that the security measures in place are not fit for purpose. Sometimes these devices are necessary, at other times not, and often best results stem from the cheapest or cost-free actions.

The best time to consider the security issue is at the design stage with a risk assessment. There should, for example, be the least places possible where nefarious activities cannot be observed. Goods are at their most vulnerable when on the move, which makes the loading bay a prime target. The goods receipt and despatch areas should be kept well apart so that they do not provide an easy cross docking function for the thieves. Staff car parking should not be kept close to the warehouse as it makes it easier for goods to be passed between vehicles. Social areas like canteens where visitors and staff can mix freely should be kept away from goods receipt and despatch areas. Single skin walls are best avoided because stolen Land Rovers could easily make a big hole in them.

Racking and shelving layouts, offices, etc, should avoid creating hidden corners and provide clean lines of sight. Management should be suspicious about piles of pallets deliberately positioned to block CCTV cameras. Such cameras, however, are only as good as the people behind them. If a warehouse floor worker has a relative behind the CCTV then extra vigilance is needed. As always, good lighting will act as a deterrent. Simple, cost-free steps like walking around unannounced at different times, insisting on a neat and tidy environment, are also desirable.

Sometimes the theft problem can be so bad that it pays to call in outside security specialists who may have to plant warehouse moles for many months, but the results can pay handsomely. At this time of year when daylight hours shorten in the run up to Christmas theft levels soar. Management should have a zero policy over theft but many do not. That must also apply to drug dealing on site which, alas, is rampant.

It would be legitimate to ask what role low pay plays in rampant warehouse theft but that is another story for another time, perhaps. Meanwhile, warehouse operators should be ever vigilant this time of year to avoid risking another winter of discontent.

Warehouse & Logistics News

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