Cutting Tool Engineering
April 2013 / Volume 64 / Issue 4

Protecting the small valuables

By Keith Jennings

What would a new month be without another test of your management skills or, at a minimum, another distracting worker incident? I am continuing to add to my crisis-management portfolio, and my latest encounter is definitely a common issue in machine shops. With a valuable assortment of tools and equipment, as well as a smorgasbord of small and largely unnoticeable miscellaneous items, any shop can be a victim of employee theft.

Many shops have toolrooms, vending machines or other systems to control inventory and prevent waste or theft. Even with those systems in place, total control is essentially impossible. If an employee makes up his mind to borrow or take something without permission, chances are he’ll get away with it. And many small shops operate without any professional controls and rely largely on trust. But sooner or later, some employee is going to convince himself “it’s OK” to take property that belongs to your shop.

Of course, large pieces of equipment normally aren’t in jeopardy of being stolen. It’s the small things that can go unnoticed, including scrap.

Recently, a lathe department supervisor noticed the carbide scrap we collect in a bucket was slowly disappearing. A bucket of this material can be worth several thousand dollars and its security shouldn’t be overlooked. He didn’t say anything for a few weeks while monitoring the container. Eventually, he saw the bucket was empty but carefully positioned in its original location and brought the situation to my attention.

After failing to identify any valid, legitimate explanation for the disappearance of the carbide scrap, including accidental disposal, we reviewed our security camera video for evidence. The recording clearly revealed an employee placing a large trash can on a dolly, putting the heavy scrap bucket into trash can to conceal it, and rolling the trash can to an area away from the cameras. He then returned with the empty bucket and carefully placed it on its exact spot without being noticed—or so he thought.

After further discussion and investigation into the incident, we determined he was the primary culprit and had been taking carbide scrap for several months. In addition to firing him, we notified the police and had him sign a letter admitting theft and pay about $300 as compensation for the 25 lbs. of carbide scrap he claimed to have taken that day. Over time, the theft was likely much greater, but I determined further action was not necessary.

With the potential for these types of incidents, good managers must not hesitate to question or correct subordinates who may be careless with your property or suspected of pilfering valuable items.

Unfortunately, many managers don’t want the hassle that comes with confronting a difficult situation and may look the other way and ignore it. No matter how trustworthy your managers may be, unannounced or discreet monitoring of work areas, cabinets, scrap containers and desks and other potential hiding places is a good idea.

Metal scrap is valuable and can be easy to remove in small amounts for a lucrative return. Combine that with the assortment of tools, workpieces and equipment in a machine shop and you have a target-rich environment.

While it sounds obvious, protecting your investment and company property includes everything from the big lathe to the tiny bits of carbide scrap and everything in between. Don’t overlook anything and be very possessive. After all, it belongs to you. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at
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