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Call Us: + 353 (01) 7076011

isrg logo vds certification logo essa certification logo a2p certification logo

Call Us: + 353 (01) 7076011

  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Guide To European Certification
  • Insurance Rates (ISRG)
  • Help For Insurers
  • Advice Videos
  • Lock Videos
  • Testimonials
  • Blog

Asbestos In Pre-2000 Office Cabinets & Safes

Asbestos was used in safes, document and filing cabinets in Europe and the UK from the mid-19th century until the late 1990s at least, and is highly carcinogenic. Even in tiny amounts, asbestos dust can lead to lung, laryngeal cancers and malignant mesothelioma. The mesothelioma survival rate typically being 4–18 months after diagnosis.

asbestos-effect-door

The ban on the sale and use of asbestos in Ireland in 2000 far from seeing a reduction in the amount of safes and cabinets that contained asbestos instead saw a surge, as thousands of contaminated safes became available on the second-hand market as they were removed from all over EuropeWith high costs associated with asbestos disposal and a low level of awareness when it came to the issue of asbestos in safes and cabinets, huge quantities of these contaminated products were imported and sold in Ireland, often being passed off as "almost new" having been re-sprayed and refitted. 

The free movement of goods within Europe, the determined marketing of pre-2000 safes in Ireland, and until recently, non-existent enforcement or awareness regarding the issue, has led to a perfect storm in which unscrupulous traders have made huge profits compared to the few conscientious safe suppliers still operating in the Irish market.

 

The danger posed to the public, locksmiths, and safe technicians   

The release of asbestos fibres through abrasion caused by the opening and shutting of a safe or filing cabinet door against an asbestos door seal, which would obviously be in close proximity to the user of such a unit, is a high-risk issue, particularly as someone could be opening and closing a unit for decades in a poorly ventilated environment such as a small office. The risk of the release of highly carcinogenic asbestos fibre dust as the result of drilling, cutting or otherwise disturbing asbestos inside pre-2000 cabinets or safes, by locksmiths or maintenance technicians called on to service, repair or emergency open such units should also be immediately apparent. 

 

European data   

According to the Frankfurt based European Security Systems Association (ESSA), the largest representative organisation of safe manufacturers that produce in and sell safes to Europe, asbestos was still being used in the manufacture of safes and document cabinets in Europe as late as 1997, with some manufacturers likely using asbestos in their products later than that date, while data has recently become available suggesting the consequences of the use of the carcinogen in the production of such units is far more alarming than the most pessimistic of expert predictions.

2018 study by the Institute for Occupational Medicine in Germany, later published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2022, has shown that compared to builders, three times as many locksmiths in Germany had an occupational asbestos related disease, despite there being 2,294,823 builders in Germany but only 1178 locksmiths

These figures are shocking but in translating the likely implications of them to an Irish context there are other factors to consider. Germany banned asbestos in 1993, whereas Ireland didn’t officially ban asbestos until 2000. Secondly, when pre-2000 safes and document cabinets presumed to contain asbestos are removed from Post Offices, Banks, and other businesses in Germany, there is a legal requirement that they be disposed of permanently, but in Ireland, units such as pre-2000 safes, cabinets, and strongrooms are often found back in circulation after being removed for disposal. 

 

Asbestos, untested safes and the AIS Safe Rating List   

The "placing on the market" of any product which contains asbestos has been illegal in the UK since 1999, and in Ireland since 2000, but the law is less clear on assisting in the marketing of such products unless a direct connection can be made between marketing and sale. Nevertheless, the Association of Insurance Surveyors Safe Rating List has been phenomenally successful in both the UK and Ireland in marketing “recommended insurance rates” for hundreds of untested pre-2000 safes which according to Ireland's Health and Safety Authority and the European Security Systems Association (ESSA) (an organisation mainly composed of safe manufactures) should be presumed to contain asbestos.

If you are unfamiliar with the Association of Insurance Surveyors “Safe Rating List”, this document is the most frequently recommended reference document by safe suppliers in the UK and many in Ireland, for supposedly demonstrating a safe is suitable for a level of risk in relation to cash or jewellery cover. Unfortunately however, far from being a list of recommended insurance rates for safes which have a proven level of burglary resistance, the AIS Safe Rating List is in fact a marketing document that benefits UK AIS members, including the small group mainly comprised of safe suppliers, that curates the list, the AIS Safe Committee. 

With no background in either accredited testing or certification of burglary resistance standards the AIS Safe Committee are the sole source of recommended rates of insurance cover for all safes in the AIS Safe Rating List, and that includes hundreds of completely untested and second-hand pre-2000 safes given rates comparable with their properly certified counterparts, purely for the benefit of their own members marketing interests.

Quote from the AIS list 2015:

"for the benefit of members, the Committee has provided a cash rating for the un-tested safes from these companies based on information provided by them."

Even more remarkable, considering the list first appeared against the backdrop of the Europe-wide ban on asbestos products in 2005just one year after the AIS Safe Rating List was first published in 2006, the AIS increased the insurance rates it recommended specifically for untested "pre-certification” safes, stating that the increase in the rates of insurance cover it was recommending for these units was a consequence of “comments” from “suppliers of reconditioned safes", in other words, an increase sought by its members for marketing purposes by its own members.

In fact, according to a founding member of the AIS Safe Committee, Mike Palmer, in a 2013 Locksmith's Journal article titled “Cash Limits For Safes – Who Decides?” the role of the AIS Safe Rating List in marketing both untested new and pre-certification second-hand safes is fundamental to its very existence.

In reference to European Standards and the marketing of "reconditioned" safes Palmer is reported to have said, 

"This could have sounded the death knell of the AiS Safe List but the introduction of European standards opened the flood gates to foreign manufacturers." "The AiS Safe Committee was constantly extending its listing of both currently manufactured safes, and the hundreds of out-of-production models available on the reconditioned market."

ais safe rating list

Although the Association of Insurance Surveyors is a UK organisation, it's safe rating list is denominated in pounds sterling, and it first appeared after the introduction of European standards, the document stated from its outset in 2005, that it was not only intended for use in the UK but was also "appropriate" for use in the Republic of Ireland.

Quote from the AIS list 2005 to 2018:

"The List is appropriate for use in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Eire and AiS makes no representation or promise that it is appropriate for use outside these territories".

With little awareness of European standards in Ireland at that time, and the promotion of the AIS list by safe suppliers more than happy to utilise its marketing potential to capitalise on the surge in supply of second-hand safes obtained at little or no cost, the AIS Safe Rating List held sway in the minds of most of the Irish safe supply and insurance market for many years until problems with the list’s recommendations started to be highlighted to the Irish insurance industry in 2016, leading to the formation of the Irish Safes Ratings Group, and the eventual withdrawal of the claim the list was "appropriate" for use in the "Republic of Eire", by the AIS in 2019.

Unfortunately, in Ireland, the sale of safes, filing cabinets, document cabinets and data cabinets which should be presumed to contain asbestos was widespread since the carcinogen was officially banned, due to both the availability of safes and fire cabinets which others wanted disposed of, and of course the availability of a document which made such units appear comparable and better value than their properly tested, certified, asbestos free counterparts.

Below are safes from just one manufacturer, Fichet-Bauche, which have all been confirmed by that manufacturer as containing asbestos along with where they appeared in the last AIS Safe List we have access to, the 2015 list, and the rating the AIS Safe Committee gave them.

 

ModelTypeAsbestos ContentDiscontinuedAIS listingAIS rating
BARSafedoor & walls1981Page 25£10,000
BAGCSafedoor1976Page 25£17,500
Bankers GCSafedoor1984Page 25£75,000
EntrepriseSafedoor & walls1987Page 25£35,000
170 DFDeposit Safewalls1984Page 25£35,000
ORDINA 110Fireproof cabinetjoints1995Page 54Fire
ORDINA 210Fireproof cabinetjoints1995Page 54Fire
ORDINA 310Fireproof cabinetjoints1995Page 54Fire

 

Chrysotile asbestos

Chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) was used as an additive to concrete, in fibre board and as a direct material fill inside the cavity walls of pre-2000 safes and cabinets but was most widely used in door seals on safes, fireproof safes, and fireproof filing cabinets. Chrysotile asbestos can often be found in the form of a woven asbestos tape adhered around the door frame against which the door of a safe or cabinet closes

Asbestos door seal:

Asbestos safe door

A study by the BZR Institute in Bonn, Germany, found that asbestos fibres released through abrasion by opening and closing a light metal door on an asbestos fire seal released enough asbestos fibres to exceed the maximum European exposure limit after just three opening and closing cycles.

 

Asbestos fibre board

Asbestos fibre board composed of Chrysotile or Amosite asbestos was often used in fibre board sheets found inside the body of pre-2000 safes and cabinets. A safe or cabinet that contains asbestos within its structure in any form is a potent danger to maintenance technicians or others called to work on such units.

Asbestos fibre board

Asbestos fibre board in document cabinet

 

Amosite (brown asbestos) 

Amosite (brown asbestos) was used as an additive to concrete, in fibre board and as a direct material fill inside the cavity walls of pre-2000 safes and cabinets. 

Due to their age most of these units are quite likely to have a mechanical key or combination lock and therefore likely to have a lock-out event at some stage which on many occasions requires the safe, cabinet body or door, to be drilled open. Drilling a contaminated safe or cabinet will result in amounts of airborne dust containing asbestos in one of its most dangerous forms due to its incorporation into the body of many safes and cabinets as an anti-combustion filling material or as a curing agent in cement. 

Amosite or brown asbestos leakage from a Chubb filing cabinet is seen below

Abestos in Chubb filing cabinet

 

Paronite (asbestos rubber)

Paronite asbestos, more likely to be found on a filing cabinet, was used in a similar role and is a mixture of Chrysotile asbestos fibres and synthetic rubber or natural rubber, usually having the appearance of a black or brown rubber seal, often with tiny white fibres visible. 

Paronite mixture based on chrysotile asbestos fibers and rubber

Paronite abestos in Chubb filing cabinet

 

Asbestos Concrete

Asbestos concrete which is concrete with Chrysotile or Amosite asbestos used as an additive was used as a concrete mix that can be found inside the body of many pre-2000 safes.

Asbestos concrete

Asbestos concrete

 

Asbestos Wood

Asbestos lumber (asbestos wood) may have the appearance of wood but is actually made of compressed asbestos fibres soft enough to be worked like lumber and was marketed as a superior alternative to wood. As it is both fire resistant and electrically non-conductive, asbestos wood was thought to be ideal as a layer of protection inside the walls of safes and strongrooms against thermal tools such as the thermic lance or oxyacetylene torch.

Asbestos lumber or wood

Asbestos wood

 

The Nostalgia Market

In recent years a very dangerous trend of upcycling antique safes as drinks cabinets, flower stands or Objet d'art has emerged, spurred on by decor gurus and second-hand safe traders, seemingly unaware of the numerous dangers hidden inside many ornate antique safes, of which, asbestos is the most common. There are even companies that specialise almost exclusively in refurbishing antique safes, for all appearances, to a very high standard, however, none of these companies seem to have an asbestos removal procedure or any information about the issue on their websites.

Many antique safes, particularly ones marked "fire resistant", have hidden holes intentionally drilled in the top interior walls, often sealed with wax and painted over. These holes were intended to allow steam resulting from the heating of a mixture that includes asbestos to escape into the interior protecting the contents of the safe. Unfortunately these holes also allow asbestos leakage into a safe as the mixture breaks down with age, often leaving a toxic orange or brown residue in the bottom of such units, which many people mistake for rust.

One of the most common and easily recognisable antique safes that appears on the second-hand market in Ireland and the UK is the Milner 212. In 1840 Thomas Milner patented a mixture of asbestos and mica to insulate ammunition boxes for the UK War Office, noticing that if the mixture was heated it would give off steam, somewhat protecting the contents from explosion. Milner quickly realised that the innovation was far more effective as a cavity insulation in safes. With holes punched in the inner walls steam given off by the mixture could escape into the interior, saturating and therefore protecting the contents, in particular paper documents, from destruction in a fire. Prosperous Victorians literally queued up to buy this new protection. When his patent lapsed in 1854, most safe manufacturers in the UK made quick use of the idea, quickly followed by their European counterparts.

Most safes manufactured under Milner’s patent can easily be recognised by a distinctive ornate brass plate with the number "212" displayed on top of an elaborate crest. 212 degrees Fahrenheit is the boiling point of water. The temperature at which the asbestos insulation would produce steam. This plate is still a very common site on the second-hand and "refurbished" market in Ireland and the UK.

Milner Safe

 

When A Safe Or Cabinet Must Be Presumed To Contain Asbestos

Where The Asbestos-Free Status Of Any Pre-2000 Safe Or Cabinet Cannot Be Established Or Is In Anyway Uncertain, It Must Be Presumed To Contain Asbestos.

Any safe or cabinet that does not display an accredited stamped metal certification plate on the inside of it's door or that is not marked by the manufacturer to say that it does not contain asbestos, must be presumed to contain asbestos. In the case of uncertified units, if a verifiable and clear indication that the date of manufacture is after 2005 is not available, it is a huge red flag. A safe appearing with no identifying marks should always strike any professional as highly suspect and a very likely candidate to conceal hazardous substances or other nasty surprises. 

Hand written stickers, poor quality plastic plates, badges that look out of place, or undertakings from a supplier (regardless of who they are) that a unit does not contain asbestos are all signs that something is not right. For the unscrupulous traders who deal in dangerous safes, cabinets and strongrooms, misrepresentation is an everyday business practice. 

Uncertified second-hand safe

Second-hand Safe

 

When A Safe Or Cabinet Is Asbestos Free

For safes, cabinets, and strongrooms a European certification plate with a date after 2000 is a guarantee that a unit is asbestos free. The verification of the absence of harmful substances being a pre-requisite of European testing and certification. 

A safe with properly accredited European certification of burglary resistance will display at least one stamped metal certification plate on the inside of the door. This will always be a stamped metal plate, never a sticker. An accredited certification plate for a safe will display the word "SAFE" and the standard EN1143-1, the logo of an accredited certification body (not the manufacturer), the burglary grade in Roman numerals, and most importantly, will often provide confirmation that the certification body is accredited to ISO/IEC 17065. This is legal assurance that the certifier is accredited under European law. The same information will be available on accredited certification documents which are freely available and should always be asked for.

Indication Of Safe Certification Plate


 For confidential help or advice on this subject call: +353 1 7076011


Alan Redd Certified Safes Ireland NSAI

Certified Safes Ireland™ director Alan Donohoe Redd is a member of the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) Working Group responsible for writing European Standards for safes, strongrooms (vaults), secure cabinets and physical data protection for the European Union. A registered NATO supplier and a longstanding member of the European Security Systems Association, Alan has a vast range of experience spanning almost 40 years and encompassing installation of safes, strongrooms, physical data protection, CCTV, alarms, access control, secure storage control systems and Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) specification, design, and installation.

Alan is an expert on standards and fraud issues related to secure storage in Europe and the UK, has had articles related to these subjects published by The Law Society Gazette and Irish Broker Magazine, has forced retractions of multiple false claims related to secure storage offerings to the public, including some published by the Irish Times, and has been pivotal in having misleading standards and practises recognised and withdrawn in Ireland, the UK and at a European level.

Alan's expertise has been relied on by:

N.A.T.O. Europe, The U.S. Air Force (Europe), PayPal (Worldwide), Grant Thornton, The Department Of Communications (NCSC Cyber Security) (Ireland), The Revenue Commissioners, Electricity Supply Board (Cyber Security) (Ireland), The Danish Defence Forces (Afghanistan), The Insurance Institute of Ireland, The Royal College Of Surgeons, BFC Bank, Interxion Data Centres, The Private Security Authority, Isle of Man Gold Bullion, Brown Thomas, Bvlgari, Boodles, Druids Glen, The Shelbourne Hotel, and many others ....

Alan's seminars on safes, strongrooms and HNW secure storage have been part of Continuing Professional Development for underwriters and insurers having been awarded CPD points by the Insurance Institute of Ireland and the Chartered Insurance Institute (UK).

Insurance Institute of Ireland Insurance Institute of London nato cage code