Safes in the sense that we now think of them first emerged during the Industrial Revolution. They were originally designed to protect company ledgers from the all too common fires that many factories of this era suffered from. A market for thief resisting versions emerged soon after and now days there are a plethora of models available for both commercial and home use in all shapes and sizes with a variety of locking options. Safes can even be used as fashion accessories in your home these days with models designed by leading names like Karl Lagerfeld and Bentley.
The market for safes has exploded over the last 10-15 years, particularly for domestic use. The increasing wealth of the nation and a fear of crime have no doubt helped but, so too have a new wave of small, lightweight safes that are relatively inexpensive and perfect for home installation. At the lower end some of these safes do not offer the security or reliability that people would necessarily expect and the general public’s perception of what they are buying can often be well off the mark. Its important to look for recognised brands such as Burton Safes, Chubb and Securikey and always look for tested product, even from the above suppliers. Safes in the £1,000-£10,000 cash cover area, is where the real volume is and where the average locksmith should concentrate is selling efforts on.
The purpose of the modern safe is to buy time against attack, whether that is from fire or theft. No safe is unbreakable if the would be assailant has enough time and the right tools. So the first thing to consider when buying a safe is what you want to protect and what the risks are. Security safes are categorised in “Cash Ratings”. This is essentially what an underwriter would typically insure the contents of the safe for, although it can be multiplied by ten for most jewellery and some other valuables. So a £1000 cash rated safe would be suitable for storing that level of hard currency or £10,000 worth of jewellery. There are European attack test standards for safes which have recognised cash ratings associated with them. To achieve these standards, safes are submitted to national testing laboratories where they will be attacked with a set tool list and the time taken to gain entry is recorded. A score is then given based on the tools used and the time recorded. Below is a list of the various Grades and the cash ratings associated with them.
Grade 0: £6000
Grade 1: £10,000
Grade 2: £17,500
Grade 3: £35,000
Grade 4: £60,000
Grade 5: £100,000
Grade 6: £150,000
Grades 7-13: Individually negotiated
Recently there have been some questions raised within the industry about the reliability of the test results from certain laboratories. As a result many British insurers will now only accept tests certificates issued from the LPCB, Sold Secure (both British test houses) and ECBS, all of whom have impeccable records and stringent quality control systems. It’s therefore recommended that you generally look for one of these marks on your safe.
Whilst most safes will offer some form of fire resistance its wrong to assume that all of them will protect papers in the event of an inferno. A plate safe will offer virtually no resistance at all and your average double walled home safe will often only offer around 10-15 minutes protection at relatively low temperatures. If you are concerned about fire protection it’s important to get a model with a proper certificate.
Ask to see the paperwork which proves the safe is tested. A similar system of testing exists for fire resistance as it does for burglary protection. The 3 certificates to look out for are LFS (new European standard for safes) SP (highly regarded Swedish laboratory) and UL (American laboratory). There are 30 minute, 60 minute, 90 minute and 120 minute standards. However, it’s important to decipher if your customer wants to protect paper or computer media. Floppy disks and tapes destroy at much lower temperatures than paper and newer electronic media such as USB sticks and DVD’s. If you are protecting the former it’s important to get a specialist Data Safe.
Once you’ve ascertained the correct grade of safe required you should then consider the type of safe, size and locking options. Most customers prefer Free Standing Safes for ease of use but Underfloor & Wall Safes can offer the added advantage of a hidden location. Bear in mind that the latter can be difficult to fit though. If the safe is for commercial use it’s possible that a deposit facility may be required which allows employees to deposit cash without having access to the main safe.
A safe is generally a one off purchase and so when considering size its worth choosing a model that will be big enough to not only accommodate all the valuables the customer has now but, are likely to have in 20 years time. If the object you want to protect is particularly large then a Strongroom may be the job. Panic rooms are becoming increasingly popular amongst the super rich, particularly those coming in from Eastern Europe, Russia the Middle East and the Far East. The super rich may also want to consider having a one off showpiece safe like those offered by Stockinger, Doetling or Burton Safes. They all offer very high class, bespoke jewellery safes costing anything from £20,000 - £250,000.
Locking options vary from a simple key to mechanical combinations (normally seen in the movies), electronic and now even biometric options. Mechanical combination locks are difficult to use and are usually best steered clear of. Cheap electronic locks are also best avoided as they are easy to bypass. Any electronic safe, retailing at less than £100 is likely to operate via a solenoid that can be bounced open using the most rudimentary tools. Higher security electronic locks however do offer many advantages such as multiple user codes, time delay, time locks and audit trails to give a history of the lock’s usage. This can be invaluable in commercial situations. There are also locks by Kaba & Insys that can be controlled and programmed remotely via a network now, something which appeals to larger organizations with multiple sites.
More recently biometric locking has been very slowly creeping onto the market. These have been hit and miss in terms of security and reliability. This is surely the way that locking will go though with the advantage that you can’t forget your code and it gives the only 100% guaranteed audit trail that the person was present at the safe.
Small home safes can be relatively easily installed by the end user but higher security safes should preferably be installed by a professional. After all a safe is only as secure as its fixings. Most safe suppliers should be able to arrange this for you if you are not confident in doing it yourself. A freestanding safe should ideally be located in an area of limited access. Under the stairs or in a cupboard are obvious choices and, if you can get it down there, the cellar (not in a flood risk area) is a difficult one for any criminal to get it back out of. At very least, try and get it flush against two walls, to prevent the safe being rocked out of is fixings.
To recap the ABC of selling a safe:
- What does the customer want to protect and what is its value?
- What does the customer want to protect it against, fire, theft or both?
- Make sure you purchase a certificated safe from a reputable supplier
- Allow additional size for new valuables acquired over the coming years
- Choose a locking option (key, combination, electronic, biometric)
- Choose a safe type (free standing, underfloor, wall, deposit)
- Think about location. Limit the ability to remove the safe from its fixings and limit the room to maneuver tools.
Safes are a considered purchase but increasingly insurers are being ‘difficult’ with claims – no harm in keeping a few leaflets in the van and adding one to your receipted invoice pointing out the benefits of having and more importantly USING a safe.