Fail-Safe or Fail-Secure? For the Access Control, Safety, and Security of Your Workplace – You Need to Know the Difference

Steve Dean, RCDD Blog Leave a Comment

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One of our technology partners, Allegion, published an article by Lori Greene that explains the basic differences between Fail-Safe and Fail-Secure:

  • Fail-Safe products are unlocked when power is removed. Power is applied to lock the door.
  • Fail-Secure products are locked when power is removed. Power is applied to unlock the door.
  • Fail-Safe/Fail-Secure refers to the status of the secure side (key side, outside) of the door.
  • Most products provide free egress whether they are fail-safe or fail-secure.

You might think, ‘Let’s just make all electrified products fail-safe, so then I know there won’t be a problem.’ Well, don’t forget that electric strikes on fire doors must be fail-secure, so the door is positively-latched if there is a fire. But also, there are security concerns. Should the building or area be unlocked and allow free access every time there is a power failure? A breach of security can be extremely dangerous for building occupants, along with the potential for loss or damage.

– Lori Greene, Allegion

According to Jade Learning, an Electrical and Alarm Education resource, the confusion stems from the word “safe”:

Think if this way: You might not feel safe in a protected space if the doors unlocked during a power failure, but if the doors ‘failed safe’ you would not have to worry about getting out of the building.

In those same situations, when there’s a power failure or power is shut down by an Access Control System, Fail-Secure locks require power for the lock to remain unlocked, so they lock the doors when power is shut off.

Fail-secure locks are also used for fire-related doors such as stairwells. The reason is that in case of fire, those doors should remain closed to seal off a portion of the space and help keep a fire from spreading.

  • Fail-Safe locks are often for main entry points like office doors or lobby access doors.
  • Fail-Secure locks are often used for IT rooms or other sensitive areas.

Allegion provides these additional points:

  • Fail-Secure locks are the standard electronic lock type, but if you are thinking about security you need to consider scenarios where fail-safe locks should come into play.
  • Fail-Safe locks should be used on stairwell doors requiring re-entry and any other doors which must allow free access upon fire alarm or power failure.
  • Fail-Safe electric strikes can’t be used for stairwell re-entry because fire doors require fail-secure electric strikes for positive latching. Fire doors do not require fail secure electric locks—only fail-secure electric strikes.
  • Be aware that when a fail-safe product is used, the door will be unlocked whenever there is a fire alarm or power failure, which is an obvious security risk.
  • Electric latch retraction panic hardware is only available fail-secure—the latch projects when power is removed. Electromagnetic locks are only available fail-safe—there is no magnetic bond when power is removed.
  • Fail-Secure products are more common than fail-safe due to security concerns. Power consumption may also be an issue. Fail-secure products provide security when there is no power applied.
  • Most electrified products, except electromagnetic locks, allow free egress at all times, regardless of whether they are fail-safe or fail-secure.

Source Decoded: Fail-Safe vs. Fail-Secure – When and Where? By Lori Greene

How are you providing access control, safety, and security in your workplace environments?

This is a question that employers, IT professionals, and facilities managers must answer when considering upgrades, renovations, new office construction, and multi-location regional and national rollouts.

Providing you with the right answers right away is what we do. The next time you’re considering a project, and you need accurate information and actionable insights, the easy thing to do is Ask ASD®.

ASD® partners with a host of workplace technology industry leaders. Click here to view all of our partners.

Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI is the Manager of Codes & Resources for Allegion. For more about this topic and to download a free reference guide on codes, visit


Steve Dean is BICSI certified RCDD

Those who achieve the RCDD designation have demonstrated their knowledge in the design, implementation, integration and project management of telecommunications and data communications technology and related infrastructure.


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