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Safes…the last defence against burglary

The purpose of a safe or vault is to protect the contents by resisting a physical attack or fire. The longer the safe resists a physical attack or fire, the greater the likelihood that police /security guards or fire department can respond to an alarm signal before property is stolen or burnt.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a national testing facility for products and devices, rates safes and vault panels based on their ability to withstand an attack.


Let's consider two basic types of safes:

1) Fire safes (UL-listed and non-listed),

2) Burglary safes (UL-listed and non-listed).

Fire Safes

As the name implies, fire safes only provide fire protection. Most fire safes can be opened with common mechanical tools in two minutes or less. Mechanical tools include hand tools such as chisels, screwdrivers, pliers and hammers, as well as picking tools, portable mechanical and electric tools and carbide drills, to list a few. Fire safes are designed to protect records and other valuable papers. They may be appropriate for jewellery with low values when other security measures compensate for the safe's burglary-resistance deficit.

• UL-listed fire safes are classified in three rating categories:

(four hours of fire protection),

(two hours of fire protection) and

(one hour of fire protection).

Burglary Resistant Safes

Let's consider the two categories of burglary resistance safes:

1) UL-listed, and 2) non-UL listed. A safe that is listed by UL has been tested and found to withstand physical attack using a specific complement of common mechanical tools (sometimes including cutting torches, depending on which product label UL is testing) for an established time period.

While non-UL listed safes may be well constructed, no testing has been conducted by an objective third party to determine how long the safe can resist attack.

Protect Your Valuables with a Burglary-Resistant Safe

UL labels

Underwriters Laboratories uses three criteria to describe the ability of a safe or modular vault panel to withstand physical attack:

1) The complement of tools used in the testing;

2) The length of time the safe or vault panel can withstand attack; and

3) The number of sides, in the case of safes, that are tested.

The following describes the labels that UL applies to the safes and vault panels it tests.

• TL - tool-resistant

• TRTL - torch- and tool-resistant

• TXTL - resistant to torches, explosives and tools

• x6 - equivalent protection is provided to all six sides of the safe or vault; when x6 is not listed, only the safe's door or front face has been tested.

• 15, 30, or 60 - the number of minutes that the safe or modular panel will resist the attack in a test conducted by UL.

For example, a safe with a TL-15 designation resists physical attack from common mechanical tools as applied in the UL-testing process to the safe's door and front for at least 15 minutes. This safe provides relatively low security. A safe with a UL label of TRTL-30x6 resists physical attack from common mechanical tools and cutting torches on all six sides for at least 30 minutes.

UL labels are placed on the safe door or inside the safe cabinet.


Underwriters Laboratories assigns one of four ratings to vault doors and modular vault panels based on expert burglary attack with cutting torches, fluxing rods, portable electric power tools, portable hydraulic tools and common mechanical tools for a specific time period. UL labels are mounted on the vault door and individual modular vault panels. When the UL rating for the door and panels are different, the overall vault rating is determined by the least burglary resistive component.

The ratings are:

Class Attack time

M15 minutes attack time

I30 minutes attack time

II60 minutes attack time

III120 minutes attack time

Vault Construction

Vault doors that are not UL-listed are evaluated based on the construction and thickness of the steel incorporated in the door. For non-UL listed vaults or panels, construction of the vault floor, ceiling, and walls is evaluated in terms of their thickness, and construction (steel, masonry, cinder block, filled cinder block, or reinforced concrete). Vaults constructed of poured concrete with reinforcing rods must meet the standards of construction established by the American Society of Testing and Materials to assure appropriate burglary resistant protection, but are not rated by U.L.

Doors and vault construction that are not burglary resistant may be listed as fire resistant and containers with these components should be used for storage of records and other valuable papers. Vaults constructed with masonry block, brick, or steel are not typically acceptable for burglary protection, except when values are low and other burglary protection compensates for the deficiency.

When the electricity fails and phones are out, your safe or vault is your last defense against a burglar. Make certain that you invest wisely.

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