New Laws Aim to Thwart Thievery
B.C. and Nova Scotia Scrutinize Scrap Metal Sales
By Barbara Carss
Current market prices make scrap metal a lucrative commodity for deliberate thieves or random passersby who see an opportunity. Tales abound of stolen cabling, piping, equipment and decorative fixtures from utility storage yards, unattended worksites, abandoned buildings, temporarily vacant premises and unwatched public venues.
“This is just a cross-industry concern as the price of copper and steel has risen in the past couple of years,” says Warren Heeley, President of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada. “Metal comprises 70 to 90% of the content of most of the products we use. That becomes attractive to a certain element.”
Copper, which has been hovering around $4 per pound, is a frequent target, but other metal products can also attract attention if they’re accessible and in sufficient quantities to be valuable.
“In high-rise construction, aluminum forms are popular,” reports Richard Lyall, President of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario. “Security is an important necessity on sites.”
Security consultants recommend storing metal inside in a locked facility wherever practical. However, such precautions are problematic, if not logistically impossible, when the metal is part of a building system, or in equipment and structural features that are anchored in a space.
“Some cemeteries have had problems with metal theft, and they are very, very hard to protect,” notes Mike Fenton, Director of Consulting and Client Support with Paragon Security.
Losses from petty thievery may not justify extra security costs that can fairly quickly exceed the value of the material.
“But if you’ve got a couple hundred thousand dollars worth stored outside, then it likely makes sense to pay for a security guard and, increasingly, insurance companies are going to ask for that,” Fenton observes.
Two Canadian provinces have recently adopted legislation intended to make it more difficult for thieves to unload and profit from stolen items. The British Columbia legislature passed the Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act last November, while legislators in Nova Scotia followed with the Safe Collection of Scrap Metal Act in December.
Both Acts designate scrap metal dealers as frontline lookouts and mandate formal scrutiny and documentation of all transactions. Dealers in both provinces are now required to confirm and record personal identification information from all sellers, and to keep the information on file for at least one year. (This will also compel record keepers to comply with applicable privacy legislation.) Dealers are prohibited from purchasing metal from prospective sellers who refuse to divulge the required information.
Operators of Nova Scotia’s recycling depots, who opposed the new legislation and decried the lack of consultation before it was introduced, argue that the focus on record keeping creates costs, administrative burden and the risk of undue fines for business operators rather than targeting the actual culprits.
“A fine of $5,000 to $15,000 could close a business whose total revenue is $80,000. What is the penalty for the thief?” Bruce Rogers, Executive Director of the Eastern Recyclers Association, wrote in a submission to the legislative committee examining the Act.
Scrap dealers in B.C. are further conscripted into the enforcement process since the B.C. Act directs them to immediately inform the police if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect metal is stolen, whereas Nova Scotia’s dealers are simply required to gather information and provide it to police when asked. In addition to collecting personal information about the sellers, dealers in B.C. must also determine the origin of the metal and keep a record of its weight and distinguishing markings.
Yet, there is potentially a flaw in the Province’s approach. “It assumes that all scrap metal dealers are ethical,” Fenton says.
Meanwhile, property owners everywhere are advised to be vigilant and consider the principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) even if extra security doesn’t fit into their budget. Evidence suggests that perpetrators are less likely to enter a site with camera surveillance or where they are more visible to passing traffic and from neighbouring properties.
Material stored near perimeter fencing makes it easier for thieves to quickly load it onto a vehicle they’ve parked nearby. “Most fences can be breached in under 30 seconds,” Fenton cautions.
Clear sightlines should be maintained between a property’s frontage and any storage locations deeper on the lot. Fenton also suggests reaching out to residents and business owners in the vicinity and urging them to contact police and/or the company’s security contractor if they see suspicious activity.