Not all safes are created equal

Not all safes are created equal, so it’s important to know what features you’re looking for when you buy one.

Over the last few years cheaper models of safes have become much easily available, especially for home use. But most people would be shocked at how little protection some of these safes offer.

So don’t be too surprised if that “tin box” can be opened in only a few seconds by someone who shouldn’t be trying to!

Safes can offer three different types of protection:

  • Fire Protection – most safes offer some level of fire resistance but not many will cope with serious fire. A typical double-walled domestic safe will only give 10 to 15 minutes protection to paper materials at relatively low temperatures. A “fire safe” is used to protect paper documents or other materials in the event of a fire for a longer time, and verified by a laboratory rating. These safes may give limited attack resistance in the event of a burglary.
  • Data Protection  Computer media, such backup drives or USB sticks etc, is much more sensitive to heat than paper and most safes will offer only limited protection to these in the event of a fire. However, some safes are designed to protect computer media for longer and as with the standard fire protection, this is also verified by a laboratory rating.
  • Burglary/Security Protection: a safe specifically designed to withstand sustained attack in the event of a burglary is measured by a grading system. The harder it is and the longer it takes to successfully gain access to a safe (or to remove it), the higher the grade given.

Safe standards – What do they mean?

In New Zealand the standard for burglary protection in the most secure safes is defined in AS/NZS 3809.   This standard is derived from the European standard EN1143-1, generally seen as the benchmark for safe security. All safes meeting this standard have passed a physical attack test and an anchoring strength test in an independent testing laboratory.

So larger safes that meet AS/NZS 3809 or EN1143-1 standards are given a “grade” rating (from 0-8). Relatively few models with a grade rating like this are available in New Zealand.

Smaller safes or cabinets are generally tested against a different standard: EN14450.  Rather than a grade, this denotes two levels of security, S1 and S2 – with S2 being the higher level.

Cash ratings

With all the acronyms and standards for safes, perhaps the quickest way to compare safes is through the “cash rating” assigned to them (if any).

Cash rating is an indication of the level of security of a safe and the highest amount of money that should be kept in it. Depending on the cash rating and where you live, an insurer will cover the contents of the safe. The actual amount of cover can vary between insurance companies and could be different to a manufacturer’s recommended rating.

The best advice here is: check with your insurer, and use a safe from a reputable and well known manufacturer.

Which safe do I need? There are a few simple questions to ask yourself before buying a safe:

  • What do you want to protect and what is it worth?
  • What does the capacity of the safe need to be, including future needs?
  • Are you protecting against, fire, theft, or both?
  • Where are you looking to position the safe – free-standing, underfloor, wall or deposit?

How should a Safe be installed?

There are some important factors relating to the installation of a safe:

  1. Aany products which are ECB.S certified (EN14450 and EN1143) and weighing less than a tonne should be base fixed to a solid concrete floor. If the safe has rear fixing available as well, then this should be used as extra security only. If you wish to rear fix only then you should check with your insurer to confirm that you are contravening your insurance policy.
  2. Anything other than the manufacturers fixing bolts are not recommended.

A safe is only as secure as its fixings, so higher security safes should be installed by a professional.  Any freestanding safe should ideally be sited where there is limited access. Under the stairs or in a cupboard are good choices, but as a minimum try and locate your safe against two walls to stop it being rocked from its fixings.