Key considerations when specifying locks and access control systems

In commercial applications, key factors which drive the choice of lock or access control product are legislation and the desired level of security. On legislation there is no choice. If building regulations, health and safety requirements or the insurer dictate locks tested to a specific standard, that is the baseline for specification. You can choose to go higher for a more sophisticated level of protection, but you cannot go lower.

Where standards exist, they offer the start point.  For example, in the domestic market, locks to the theft resistant BS3621 standard have been a requirement of the Association of British Insurers (ABI).  However, this standard has never been applicable to aluminium systems because of physical impracticalities.  The recent introduction of the European standard EN12209 covering single point locks and latches has changed this situation.  It allowed BS3621 to be re-written incorporating the relevant test criteria and now provides a fully written standard against which single point locks for aluminium systems can be tested.

This standard is not yet mandatory but the Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB) has been working with Secured by Design (SBD), which is owned by ACPO (Association for Chief Police Officers) Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd, to develop a scheme suitable for application to doors and windows in commercial buildings.

Determining the desired level of security is a key consideration.  There are differing levels of access security ranging from simply discouraging opportunistic or unauthorised access to protection against a deliberate and sustained attack.  Everything depends on the level of risk and so by defining as many attributes of the application as possible, it will be possible to prioritise needs and establish the optimum choice of hardware.  To achieve the most effective solution, the best course of action is usually to consult a knowledgeable supplier early in the design process, so the door installation as a whole can be designed to cater for the most appropriate locking system and, offer an appropriate combination of access and security.

Security requirements can range from the need for free access in the day and controlled access at night, to access limited to identified individuals between specific times.  In between the two there are many different levels of access control.

Where there is a need to control access in an environment with minimal danger of a break-in, simple key locking with controlled distribution of keys may be an acceptable option.  However, if a more secure solution is required, specialised locks or custom key codes will avoid the danger from duplication or loss of keys.  Where risk is deemed to be at a higher level because of the cost or consequence of damage or theft, a more robust solution with secure multi-point bolts to minimise pry points will be required.

Deciding how to control access is also an important consideration.  Traditional metal keys require a fairly high level of monitoring as loss or theft could result in a costly exercise for replacement.  Electronic access using re-programmable numeric keypads gives a greater level of control and security and can work in conjunction with premises-wide electronic building security and monitoring systems.

Keeping unwanted visitors out is one aspect – ensuring safe egress in case of an emergency is another and is an area that is subject to the greatest controls in terms of standards and legislation.  Fire routes, for example, have to enable a quick and safe exit, but still allow for any external doors to be secure from unauthorised entry.

Guidance on this aspect of egress equipment is available in the form of two rigorous European standards for emergency exit hardware and panic exit hardware.

BS EN179 was drafted to cater for situations where a panic situation is unlikely to arise because people are familiar with the emergency exit and its hardware.  It sets out the operating criteria and parameters to release an exit device operated by a lever or paddle handle in one single operation.  BS EN1125 lays down the performance characteristics for exit devices operated by a horizontal bar to ensure safe and effective exit through a door with minimum effort and no prior knowledge of the device – where a panic situation is likely to occur.

For any large public building, as an example, these two escape standards help to ensure that specifiers can select products that do not interfere with vital escape routes.  There are a number of products available that conform with these standards and come as part of an integrated access and egress control package.

Whilst the choice facing specifiers may appear complex, there is a logical route to follow to achieve the optimum solution.  The start point is any legislation that applies to the use of the building coupled with current building regulations and insurance requirements.  With empirical data creating the benchmark, the next consideration is risk.  Having defined the level of security required, the final stage is to work with a knowledgeable manufacturer to determine the practicalities of the different options available in relation to the individual installation.