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Types of Safes

Safes come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different applications. Understanding the differences and the applications of each type is key to helping your customers meet their security and compliance needs. Some insurance policies (particularly in Europe) will set requirements for safes based on the value of the safe’s contents while government agencies and contractors handling sensitive documents and materials will often be required to use containers and locks that meet specifications issued by the government (in the U.S., Federal Specification FF-L-2740B is the most commonly encountered). When recommending a product to a customer it is important to get these details at the outset as they will narrow the options significantly.

Probably the cheapest and most common types of safe encountered in the United States are “Fire Safes”. These containers may look like their sturdier cousins but they offer very limited protection against burglars and are only intended to protect valuables from damage in a fire. They are often equipped with low quality wafer locks or proprietary, built-in combination locks that offer limited customization. A customer who needs a way to protect their important personal documents from damage in a house fire would be well served with a fire safe. While many fire safes may be labeled as “Theft Resistant” or even gain the RSC (Residential Security Container) certification, these ratings merely certify that the container has a lock on it and can withstand a few minutes of attack from a screwdriver and/or small hammer. Fire resistance ratings are usually defined under UL 72.

Burglar safes tend to be much more expensive than their fire resistant relatives and come in a huge variety of styles and rating schemes. The oldest safe rating scheme still in use uses the labels B Rate, B/C Rate, and C Rate. These standards have their origin in the 19th century and generally are only concerned with the thickness of the steel used to construct the sides and door(s) of a safe. Newer standards, such as UL 687 and UL 1037, require each container to be tested by experts to determine its resistance to both environmental hazards and skilled attackers and apply various ratings based on the results; these graduated ratings allow a customer to select a safe that meets their needs without forcing them to purchase a significantly more expensive model. Additional features important to consider are added anti-tamper features, such as relockers (which carry a UL 140 rating).

Fire Resistance Ratings

In the United States the most commonly used rating system for fire resistant containers is Underwriters Laboratories’ UL 72 standard. UL 72 lays out three possible classes for fire resistance based on their ability to maintain an internal temperature for a certain amount of time. The classes are Class 350, Class 150, and Class 125. Each class has an additional rating for the number of hours of heating the safe can withstand, usually ranging from 1/2 an hour to 4 hours. For example, a Class 350 fire safe rated for up to half an hour of exposure would be listed as “Class 350-½” while the same class of container rated for 3 hours protection would be “Class 350-3”. Class 350 containers may be referred to as ‘document safes’ while Class 150 and Class 125 containers may be referred to as ‘media safes’ or ‘data safes’.

Class 350

The minimum possible rating. These fire safes can maintain an internal temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit for the rated amount of time which makes them suitable for protecting paper (paper combusts at approximately 450°F). Class 350 fire safes can be rated for as little as 30 minutes or as high as 4 hours. Some manufacturers offer inserts which can reach better temperature ratings when placed inside a Class 350 rated container.

Class 150

These fire safes can maintain an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the rated amount of time which makes them suitable for protecting many types of magnetic tape, photographic film, and optical computer disks (CDs, DVDs, etc). Class 150 fire safes can be rated for as little as 30 minutes or as high as 4 hours. Some manufacturers offer inserts which can reach better temperature ratings when placed inside a Class 150 rated container.

Class 125

These fire safes can maintain an internal temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit for the rated amount of time. Class 125 containers were originally introduced to protect floppy disks, however it still provides the best protection against fire damage available. Class 125 fire safes can be rated for as little as 30 minutes or as high as 4 hours.

Burglary Resistance Ratings

In the United States UL 1037 and UL 687 are the primary standards for rating a container against burglary but some general industry standards are still used. UL 1037 defines the RSC (Residential Security Container) classifications while UL 687 certifies a variety of burglary resistance ratings. Burglary safes should be considered on a number of criteria in addition to attack resistance rating including weight (heavier is usually better), capacity, size, and boltwork; anti-drill hardplate, relockers, and alarms are popular options.

Residential Security Containers (RSC)

The original standard for RSC rating only offered a single level of rating (essentially a pass/fail) certifying the container could withstand a five minute attack using common hand tools (a screwdriver and a small hammer). In 2016 the standard was updated to provide additional nuance in the form of “levels”. RSC is the most common rating for gun safes sold in the United States, state and local laws concerning the storage of firearms will often specify minimum ratings for use in firearm storage. RSC rated containers typically weigh less than 750 pounds.

RSC Level 1

The minimum rating to achieve certification. This certifies that the container can withstand five minutes of a single person attempting to force the container open using common hand tools such as screwdrivers, small hammers, and drills.

RSC Level 2

This certifies that the container can withstand a 10 minute attack by two people attempting to make a six square inch opening in the door/front of the container using more advanced tools including high speed drills with carbide bits and pry bars.

RSC Level 3

This certifies that the container can withstand a 10 minute attack by two people attempting to make a two square inch opening in the door/front of the container using more advanced and aggressive tools.

Safe Industry and Insurance Ratings

These classifications have their roots in the 19th century when payrolls moved across the country by trains as bundles of cash or precious metals. These ratings specify the thickness of steel used in the containers construction but do not provide certification of their performance against skilled attack. Because of the nature of the rating prices for these containers will fluctuate based on the price of steel. While many safes and containers are still sold using these ratings they are of limited use in evaluating modern safes as UL  687 ratings provide a much better idea of a container’s performance under real world conditions.

Class B / B Rate

B Rate safes have a half inch (0.5″) thick solid steel door and quarter inch (0.25″) thick solid steel walls. B Rate safes are sufficient to withstand a significant amount of brute force attempts to open them.

Class C / C Rate

C Rate safes have a one inch (1.0″) thick solid steel door and half inch (0.5″) thick solid steel walls. C Rate safes are sufficient to withstand a significant amount of brute force attempts to open them but usually only have the same anti-tamper countermeasures as B Rate safes.

UL 687 Burglary Resistance Ratings

UL 687 provides certification of a safe’s performance under a variety of skilled and semi-skilled attacks. UL 687 ratings can seem complex but are quite simple once broken down. A UL 687 rating consists of one or more two letter codes indicating the type of attack(s) tested (TL, TR, and TX), two numbers indicating the number of minutes it is certified to withstand such attacks (15, 30, 60), and optionally an additional letter and number (usually “x6”) indicating the number of sides that were tested. A safe must weight at least 750 pounds and have a body constructed of metal equivalent to one inch thick steel in order to be considered for classification under UL 687.

TL

TL indicates the safe has been tested to withstand skilled attacks using common hand tools and power tools. These tools include chisels, screwdrivers, hammers, sledge hammers (up to 8 pounds), carbide drills, and pry bars (under five feet long).

TR

TR indicates the safe has been tested to resist cutting torches and oxyacetylene welding equipment.

TX

TX indicates that the safe has been tested to withstand attacks using cutting torches and high explosives such as nitroglycerin.

Examples of Common UL 687 Ratings

TL-15 certifies that the door/front face of the safe can withstand 15 minutes of skilled attack with hand tools and power tools when fitted with a UL listed lock. TL-15×6 certifies that all six sides of a safe can withstand the same type and duration of attack. TL-30 certifies that the front/door of the safe can withstand such attacks for 30 minutes.

TRTL-15×6 certifies that all sides of the safe can withstand 15 minutes of skilled attack by hand tools, power tools, and cutting torches when fitted with a UL Listed Group 1, Group 1R, or Type 1 safe lock. TRTL-30 certifies that the front/door of the safe can withstand the same types of attack for 30 minutes.

TXTL-60 and TXTL-60×6 certify that the safe can withstand a full hour of attack with hand tools, power tools, cutting torches, and high explosives. As of 2011 UL was phasing out support for the TXTL classification but safes carrying that certification are still on the market.

Important Considerations

Many of your customers will likely only need a small fire resistant safe to protect important documents and the like in case of a house fire. Higher end fire resistant safes can even offer some theft protection when fitted with a Group 2 combination lock and placed somewhere out of the way but they should not be relied upon for preventing burglary or theft of high value items. In case a customer requires both high levels of fire resistance and burglary resistance there are combination fire and burglary safes on the market but at a significant cost.

Safes of all ratings come in various form factors. The most common are wall safes designed to be installed in a concrete or cinder-block wall, floor safes designed to sit on the floor (some smaller fire rated safes may be able to fit on a shelf or table), and in-floor safes (designed to be set into a concrete floor). There are also special purpose safes such as deposit safes which have a slot or chute in the top to allow people to drop envelopes or forms into a secure container.

When dealing with burglary rated safes the primary factor driving the requirements is likely to be cost and insurance or regulatory compliance. In the United States the GSA (General Services Administration) certifies safes and secure containers for different uses by government agencies. Many government contractors have to comply with the same regulations when handling sensitive or classified materials. Banks often need deposit safes for tellers and to accept out of hours deposits as well as safes for their ATMs. Private residences looking to have burglary safes installed must often meet certain requirements set by their insurance policies. If you wish to begin selling and servicing safes, it is wise to familiarize yourself with your potential customer base and any regulations or requirements they may be subject to.

2018-10-24T18:49:48+00:00 October 25th, 2018|All, Safe and Vault, Safes|

About the Author:

I am a security researcher and licensed locksmith working in New York, NY, USA.

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