The Difference Between Fail Safe and Fail Secure Electronic Locks

Choosing security, access control, and locks for your business or commercial property can be overwhelming. With so many options available, it’s hard to know which to choose and which will be best for your business long term. When it comes to electronic locks, you can choose a fail safe or a fail secure lock. Once you understand the differences between fail safe vs fail secure locks, you’ll be one step closer to being able to choose the option that will serve you best. 

Fail Safe Vs Fail Secure

Fail-Safe vs Fail-Secure Operation

Before we get into the differences between the two types of locks, it’s important to understand what “safe” and “secure” are referring to. Both types of locks are used for electronic locks that require power or electricity to work. When using the terms safe and secure, we are referring to the status of the door from the outside or locked side and what happens to the door when the lock loses power. 

We are not talking about what happens to the doors from the inside when the lock loses power. In the event of an emergency, the doors should never lock everyone in the building. Whether the lock is fail safe or fail secure, people should always be able to get out of the room or building. 

Before choosing a lock type for your business, be sure to check in with local codes and regulations. There are certain fire codes and regulations that require certain types of locks, so be sure you are using the appropriate lock type. 

What is a Fail Safe Lock? 

A fail safe lock needs power to stay locked. When there is a power outage or when the lock loses power, the door becomes unlocked. Fail safe locks are often used on stairwell doors that require re-entry because this keeps people safe in the event of a fire or other emergency. 

When you think of a fail safe lock, you can think of “safe” referring to the people in the building. It doesn’t necessarily keep the building safe, but rather the people inside. Because the door is unlocked when power is lost, people can move freely through any door. It also allows emergency personnel to enter from the outside in the event of an emergency. 

Some people choose to install backup batteries on fail safe locks because they don’t want the door to become unlocked in the event of an emergency. However, doing so defeats the purpose of a fail safe lock, so it’s best to avoid installing backup batteries.  

While the wording may sound confusing, the difference between fail-safe and safe fail lock is nonexistent: they are the same thing. 

trine magnetic door lock

What is a Fail Secure Lock? 

A fail secure lock needs power to unlock. When there is a power outage or when the lock loses power, the door becomes locked. Fail secure locks are commonly used in sensitive areas or high-security areas such as IT rooms or biohazardous facilities. Fail secure locks are also often used in fire-rated doors. This is particularly important in stairwells where the door doesn’t require re-entry because keeping doors closed during a fire can help prevent the fire from spreading. 

When you think of a fail secure lock, you can think of it as “secure” referring to the building itself. If the power fails, the building is still secure, and nobody will be able to enter. 

Because a fail secure lock can pose a safety problem if the power fails and somebody needs to enter the building, there is typically a manual override, often in the form of a key. Typically with an electrical lock, there is always a trace of who accesses the building because the door needs to be unlocked with a card reader or other form of traceable access such as an app. Because fail secure locks need to have a manual override in the event of an emergency, it is possible for people with manual override keys to be able to access the door without being traced. This can present a major security issue, and it’s a reason that manual override keys should be given only to a few very trusted people. 

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Pros and Cons of Fail Safe Locks

Fail safe locks, of course, can be safer for the people in the building because they allow people into doors that require re-entry, and they also allow emergency personnel to enter the building because the fail safe default is unlocked. 


  • Allow people to enter doors freely when needed


  • Use more energy because they require continuous power to remain locked 
  • Give access to unauthorized people in the event of a power outage 

Pros and Cons of Fail Secure Locks 

Fail secure locks, on the other hand, can help keep your buildings more secure and are commonly used for that reason. 


  • People can’t use a power failure to gain access to your building
  • Use less energy because they only require power when the door is unlocked 


  • Manual key override can present a security issue if somebody uses the manual override to gain unrecorded access 

Choosing the Correct Lock for Your Business: Fail Safe vs Fail Secure 

After learning about fail safe and fail secure locks, you likely have a better idea of what types of locks are best for each door in your business. If the power does fail, lock types are important to consider. 

Fail safe locks are often used in areas that see a lot of traffic, such as main entryways and inner entryways. They are also often used on doors that require re-entry, such as a rooftop door or a garage door. 

Fail secure locks, on the other hand, are often used in areas of high security, such as a hazardous area or an area containing sensitive information like a server room. They may also be used on doors that are not accessed frequently. 

If you’re looking at installing a maglock in your business, you will need to install a fail safe magnetic lock. By default, maglocks have to be fail safe because the electromagnet requires a power source to keep the magnet engaged.

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