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Webster’s dictionary defines safe as, “a container for keeping articles (as valuables) safe”. Even a fishing tackle box meets this definition, so we need to refine the term a bit. Without a better understanding of what you are entrusting your valuables to you risk investing in a false sense of security. That’s where classifications, ratings and labels come in.

The rating or classification of a safe indicates the degree of protection that safe will provide its contents in the case of fire or attempted burglary. Higher levels of protection involve higher costs to the manufacturer and higher value to the consumer. As a result, the degree of protection will affect the selling price of the safe.

Safes are labeled or classified using two different methods: construction and performance. Construction classification relates to burglar protection and is determined by the specifications of the safe. Performance ratings are determined by tests designed to replicate safes in fire and burglary situations.
Many safe manufacturers have their products performance tested. Safes can be tested for resistance to burglary and/or fire by the manufacturer or by an independent testing agency. The best known independent burglary and fire testing agency is United Laboratories (UL). Intertek-ETL and Mercury are two other highly reputable companies that perform independent testing for fire resistance.

Independent testing is expensive for the manufacturer but provides the consumer an extra level of confidence.


Industry standards for burglar resistance are indicated by construction and performance ratings. Construction ratings were established many years ago by the insurance industry and performance ratings have been developed by UL.

Construction Ratings

As mentioned above, construction ratings indicate the specifications of the safe. The construction ratings are listed below along with the associated specifications in increasing degrees of burglar resistance.


Steel doors less than 1 inch thick, walls less than 1/2 inch thick


Steel doors at least 1 inch thick, walls at least 1/2 inch thick


Steel doors at least 1 1/2 inches thick, walls at least 1inch thick


Safe or chest labeled with: "UL Inspected Tool Resisting Safe TL 15 Burglary"


Safe or chest labeled with: "UL Inspected Tool Resisting Safe TL 30 Burglary", "UL Inspected Torch Resisting Safe TR 30 Burglary" or "UL Inspected Explosive Resistant Safe with Relocking Device X 60 Burglary"


Safe or chest labeled with: "UL Inspected Torch and Explosive Resisting Safe TX 60 Burglary", "UL Inspected Torch Resisting Safe TR 60 Burglary" or "UL Inspected Torch and Tool Resisting Safe TRTL 30 Burglary"

Performance Ratings

UL established burglary (and fire) ratings that are regarded as the gold standard in the safe industry. In addition to setting standards of performance, many of UL’s burglary ratings specify construction requirements.


Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing standards for safety for more than a century. UL evaluates more than 19,000 types of products, components, materials and systems annually with 20 billion UL Marks appearing on 66,000 manufacturers’ products each year. UL’s worldwide family of companies and network of service providers includes 68 laboratory, testing and certification facilities serving customers in 102 countries.

Below are descriptions of the most common UL burglary classifications.


Performance Requirements

Indicates the ability to withstand 5 full minutes of net working time involving rigorous prying, drilling, punching, chiseling, and tampering attacks by experienced UL technicians. Net working time does not include time for changing bits on drills or taking a break of any type.


Signifies a combination-locked safe designed to offer a limited degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical hand tools and any combination of these means.

Construction Requirements
  • UL listed Group II, 1 or 1R combination lock (even the locks are tested and rated by UL).
  • 750 lbs. minimum or comes with instructions for anchoring in a larger safe, concrete blocks or on the premises where used.
  • Body walls of material equivalent to at least 1″ open hearth steel with a minimum tensile strength of 50,000 P.S.I.
  • Walls fastened in a manner equivalent to continuous 1/4″ penetration weld of open hearth steel with minimum tensile strength of 50,000 P.S.I.
  • One hole 1/4″ or less, to accommodate electrical conductors arranged to have no direct view of the door or locking mechanism.
Performance Requirements

Successfully resist entry* for a net working time of 15 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills and pressure applying devices or mechanisms. 


Signifies a combination-locked safe designed to offer a moderate degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical hand tools and any combination of these means.

Construction Requirements

Same as TL-15

Performance Requirements

Successfully resist entry* for a net working time of 30 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinding points, carbide drills and pressure applying devices or mechanisms, abrasive cutting wheels and power saws.
*Entry = opening the door or making a six square inch opening entirely through the door or front face.


Fire ratings and classifications involve three primary components; the maximum exterior temperature, length of time and maximum interior temperature. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) also tests for explosion hazard and offers optional testing for impact. When considering protection of electronic media, testing for humidity should also be done.

It is generally agreed that a maximum interior temperature of 350 degrees F is adequate for most valuables, with paper charring at 450 degrees F. Electronic media is more sensitive and therefore subject to a higher standard, commonly accepted to be either 150 degrees F with a maximum 85% humidity or 125 degrees F with a maximum of 80% humidity according to what type of electronic media being protected.


UL offers the most comprehensive and stringent fire testing. Manufacturers can request their products be fire tested for up to three criteria; fire endurance, explosion hazard and impact. Passing the first two are required to carry a UL fire label, the third, impact, is optional.

Test products may be expected to protect a variety of different types of items for different lengths of time. To address these variables UL offers three different temperatures and five different time durations.

The temperature noted on the UL label (i.e. Class 350) indicates the maximum temperature reached on the interior of the safe during testing. Most valuables will be well protected in a safe that maintains an interior temperature of no more than 350 degrees F. With paper charring at 450 degrees F the 350 degrees F maximum is usually adequate. Electronic media is more sensitive. For tapes, cartridges, microfiche, and microfilm, the limit is 150 degrees F with an 85% humidity restriction; for diskettes, the temperature cannot exceed 125 degrees F with an 80% humidity restriction.

The time noted on the UL label indicates how long the product was tested to withstand the extreme temperatures while maintaining the indicated maximum interior temperature and, if it applies, humidity.
The time rating also designates how hot the exterior temperature will get during the testing process. The product is placed in a furnace and the temperature rises over time.

There is a correlation between time and maximum temperature as follows:

1/2 Hour Rated Products

1550 degrees F

1 Hour Rated Products

1700 degrees F

2 Hour Rated Products

1850 degrees F

3 Hour Rated Products

1920 degrees F

4 Hour Rated Products

2000 degrees F


Fire Endurance Test: Contents are distributed throughout the fire resistant product to be tested. UL uses heat sensors to monitor the internal temperature during testing. These are placed at the bottom, top and on all four side walls of the product being tested. Moisture sensors are used to measure humidity, with one placed 18 inches from the top and one 18 inches from the bottom, both midway between side walls.

For products testing to meet the Class 150 or 125 requirements, the product is first conditioned for at least twelve hours prior to the test. This conditioning ensures that the starting temperature of the interior will be between 65 degrees F and 75 degrees F and the relative humidity will be below 65%. This is considered to be equivalent to normal room conditions.

Depending upon the classification being tested, the furnace heat rises at a carefully monitored rate until the specified temperature is reached. Great care is taken to make sure the furnace heat is distributed evenly over the exposed surfaces of the products.

After the temperature and time is reached, for example one hour – 1700 degrees F, the furnace is turned off. The test product is then allowed to cool in the unopened furnace until a significant decrease in the internal temperature is noted. This cooling process can take as long as 68 hours. During this cooling period, the tested product continues to absorb the heat in the furnace and the interior temperature of the product can continue to rise rapidly. It is during this critical point of the test that many products fail the test, particularly at the 125 degrees F 80% humidity level. Only products whose internal temperature and humidity level remains below the test limits during the entire heating and cooling processes are awarded the label.

Finally, the product is opened and examined to determine whether the contents are still in usable condition. The interior walls and components are checked for any evidence of heat or humidity damage.

One year after this initial test has been conducted a sample product may be pulled out of production for retesting. The product must once again pass the original classification it was tested for to keep its UL label.

Fire and Impact Test

After a product has passed the Fire Endurance Test, another sample of the same product may be tested for fire and impact. The sample is prepared in the same manner as the Fire Endurance Test. Then it is heated to a specific time and temperature (see chart below). After the product has been exposed for the correct time period, it is immediately removed from the furnace and raised 30 feet off the ground. UL then drops the product within two minutes into a pile of broken brick on a concrete base. This is equivalent to a fall form a third story.

After the impact, the unit is carefully examined for any signs of deformation, rupture of insulation or parts, or openings into the interior of the product. Because products do not always land right-side-up in real life situations, the product is turned upside down after cooling. The product is then reheated to check exposure to heat.

Once the product has re-cooled, it is opened and dismantled. The testers examine the usability of contents, condition of the interior finish, security of locks, part fastenings and any signs of undue transmission of heat or moisture. One year later, UL may repeat this test on an identical product pulled from the production line.

The Explosion Test

All UL classified insulated record protection (this includes any safe that carries a UL fire resistance label) equipment must pass the explosion test. For this test, the sample is prepared in the same manner as for the two previous tests. The test furnace is left empty and heated to 2000 degrees F. The testers quickly open the door and insert the sample. For 30 minutes (20 minutes for units rated 1/2 hour), the furnace is kept at 2000 degrees F. If no explosion takes place, the sample remains in the furnace until it cools sufficiently to handle.

The sample is then forced to open and examined for heat or moisture damage. The interior finish, insulation, security or interior equipment, locks and fastening between parts, all undergo detailed inspection.

At the option of the manufacturer, the Impact and Explosion tests can be combined. The sample is inserted in the furnace to test for explosion, and then dropped 30 feet. The sample is then reheated and cooled again, and finally, examined carefully.

UL Fire Label

The UL Fire Label will look something like the following. 

Record Protection Equipment

Classified By Underwriters Laboratories, Inc

As To Fire Resistance

Rating: Class_______-____Hr

With Class to be 350 degrees, 150 degrees, 125 degrees and Hr to be 1/2, 1, 2, 3, or 4


Intertek has more than 100 years of experience in consumer and industrial testing verifications. They help local and global businesses and organizations ensure that their products meet industry standards and consumer expectations for safety and quality.

Intertek-ETL was selected to perform fire testing for AMSEC and Cannon Safes.

Typically, the largest safe in each series is selected for testing. Smaller safes keep their contents cooler longer than larger safes so if the larger safe passes the test it is logical to conclude that the smaller one would as well. The safe was fitted with multiple thermo-sensors placed in a variety of locations within the safe including upper tier installation recognizing that the top portion of the safe reaches a higher temperature than the lower section.

The safe is subjected to a rapid ramp up in temperature; 1200 degrees F in about 10 minutes. This temperature is held for the duration of the test. The fire ratings are determined by the time it takes any one sensor to reach 350 degrees F.


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