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Evolution of electro-mechanical hardware and integrated building systems means locksmiths need training in more areas than just the mechanics of the locks, says Allegion UK Commercial Leader Pete Hancox.
In the UK, locksmiths come from all walks of life, taking a variety of routes to join the trade. Ask any locksmith about how he or she got started, and then go and ask another, and you will more than likely get two different answers – whether it was via supplier-led training courses, a locksmithing apprenticeship, being an understudy to a practicing locksmith or through traditional employment. Why is this? Partly, it is because, until very recently, the locksmith profession lacked a nationally recognised qualification, which the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) recognised.
Although MLA was the first to offer a recognised apprenticeship, it took a significant amount of time for the government to recognise locksmiths as a profession. As of June 2017, details are still being finalised between the MLA and the government to re-develop a ‘trailblazer apprenticeship’.
This is in stark contrast to other professions where well-being is concerned. Take gas engineers, for instance. Gas engineers in the UK, according to jobs website reed.co.uk, must have relevant qualifications, usually an NVQ Level 3 in Gas Installation, and also be Gas Safe registered. Apprenticeship is a common route for attaining a gas engineer position, too. This lack of regulation has given existing locksmiths a very diverse range of skill-sets and experience. Of course, diversity is welcome, and diversity is known to bring outside-of-the-box solutions. However, when we start comparing the two professions, we can start to see how gas engineers will be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet,’ whereas our locksmiths could be working from all manner of different pages.
For the future of locksmithing, this very diversity could potentially be harming our buildings and our occupants’ well-being, as opposed to aiding them. We could be creating an environment where knowledge levels, procedures, best practices and the way building hardware solutions are selected are all different and varied. While it could be years before we reach a standardised route similar to that of gas engineers, we should at least be encouraging our locksmiths to complete ongoing training, particularly to keep pace with daily developments.
We are now coming to a stage in the door hardware industry where development is rapidly overtaking existing knowledge. Electro-mechanical ‘smart’ hardware means the ability to unlock doors from phones, control access to secure areas and remotely lockdown, are all feasible and affordable functions which are being sought after by building managers. Fully integrated building solutions and biometrics are also becoming more commonplace, and forward-thinking estates managers and architects will be thinking about scalability for the future.
In the face of this surge in development, which by no means will saturate as technologies get ever more clever, locksmiths are now faced with a real problem. If they do not train in these new technologies and learn new skills, they face becoming dinosaurs that do not understand the complex natures of electronically controlled doorways and buildings. Ultimately, without a proper understanding, it can impact health and safety as well as compliance.
A case in point happened as recently as 2016, when a fire door in a hospital that was fitted with a self-closing device shut on an elderly patient, causing injury. Unfortunately, this injury contributed to that patient’s death. Intended to be an aid for the door, it has instead caused accident and tragedy. After the case, the Department of Health suggested that risk assessments should be carried out on all fire door closing devices to assess appropriate closing times, taking into account the occupancy of the building. For locksmiths who are ‘self-taught’ and have little knowledge in these electro-magnetic devices and risk assessments, we can immediately see how ongoing training in this area will benefit them.
Health, safety and compliance
In many commercial cases, it is the role of the facilities manager, or representative of the estate, to guarantee the health and safety and security of occupants, and there are strict guidelines and classifications to door hardware that must be met.
However, the varying level and difference in understanding of door hardware across both facilities managers and locksmiths leads to different ideas between the two parties. The former may be constrained by budgets and ‘the bigger picture,’ while the latter may focus on single aspects of doorways and locks, particularly if they are not acclimatised to electro-mechanical systems that are in place or being planned.
These blurred lines can be difficult to navigate, and health and safety can be compromised if one party or the other is negligent in their ‘duty of care,’ which is another unwritten code of conduct.
Take lockdown situations for example – a popular topic given the amount of security issues we are now accustomed to seeing in the media.
In the US, many schools are more accustomed to drilling students and staff on lockdown procedures and may also be advised on lockdown hardware. It is less common in the UK, but our access control systems are now ready to combat these situations, if required.
For the un-initiated locksmith though, there may be skills gaps which cannot be plugged – and this can lead to improper solutions, or even botched jobs. When faced in a lockdown situation, if there is a fault in the locking systems, this can be life-threatening.
When botched jobs do happen, it then becomes a story of whose duty of care it is to maintain the working order of the building and the locks – has the locksmith correctly set the locking devices, or have they set them to what they think is the correct setting, when it actually is not for that building’s particular use? Who is liable?
An unfortunate case whereby duty of care of the locksmith was called into question happened in 1981 in the US, way before our hardware was as technologically advanced as it is today.
Lori Einhorn was unfortunately assaulted during a visit to her then fiancé Kenneth Einhorn’s flat by an assailant who was not a tenant of the building. The case was brought against the building landlord David Seeley and locksmith REM Discount Security Products. The claim was that the front door lock on the building was allegedly broken to an extent where it could be opened “with a firm push, even when locked,” and that as installers of the lock, REM allegedly had a duty of care to the plaintiffs for their faulty installation.
In the end, the judge ruled that REM did not have a duty of care or liability towards Lori Einhorn, as, amongst others, these was no special relationship between her and the locksmith.
However, we can start to see where locksmiths may get embroiled in complex cases of liability, particularly with electro-mechanical access control hardware where there are many stakeholders in the process.
As with all training, there is an associated cost. It can be hard to see past this cost if benefits are viewed as minimal or not even applicable to current situations. For locksmiths who have conventionally worked purely in mechanical locks, it is even harder to see why they themselves will need training in disciplines such as biometrics or computer-aided systems, when traditionally these applications have only been used in select, sensitive buildings. However, we as manufacturers are constantly exploring technology that can enhance door hardware capabilities and the customer experience, simply because we believe in innovating for the better. Technologically enhanced door hardware will soon be more accepted as the norm as we become accustomed to the benefits it offers, as well as if costs on such hardware continues to fall.
Therefore, if we do not encourage our locksmiths to train, in the end we are ultimately costing more to our buildings, and to the welfare of our occupants.