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Locksmithing is one of the oldest professions and it is believed to have started in Ancient Egypt about 4000 years ago. If you have ever been locked out of your home, the chances are that you relied on the services of a locksmith to let you back in. Yet locksmiths do so much more than replacing locks, cutting keys and helping people to get back into their home, business or vehicle.
Locksmiths are skilled tradespeople who install, adjust and repair commercial, residential and automotive locks and security devices. The British locksmith industry technically isn’t regulated at a national government level; however, independent governing bodies bring standards to the field. By far, the largest of these governing bodies is the Master Locksmiths Association, otherwise known as the MLA. For a locksmith to become a member of the MLA, they must prove their expertise and experience. They are also vetted before being accepted into the governing body, with organisers able to perform DBS checks on applicants.
Locksmiths are well-trained specialists whose skills and knowledge are in high demand and maintaining health and safety is an important aspect of a locksmith’s professionalism. As there are countless safety hazards during a locksmith’s working schedule that need to be overcome on a daily basis, locksmiths will need to maintain their own safety, as well as the safety of the area and the people around them.
What is the role of a locksmith?
Locksmiths install, repair and maintain locks for homes and businesses. They fabricate and duplicate locking keys, change lock combinations, and bypass locks when authorised. All locksmiths have to apply skills in metalwork, woodwork, mechanics and electronics. Many tend to focus on the residential sector or work for commercial security companies. However, they can also specialise as forensic locksmiths, or specialise in a particular area of locksmithing such as auto locks. Locksmiths may work out of a workshop or from mobile locksmithing vans.
Depending on where they work, the role may involve:
- Fitting locks to doors and windows.
- Repairing, replacing and/or servicing locks.
- Repairing or replacing damaged components of entrance and exit doors.
- Dealing with lockouts, door opening services etc.
- Cutting keys and making new keys for locks in residential and commercial buildings, vehicles, safes, windows, etc.
- Creating keys from code.
- Fitting digital and standalone electronic locks.
- Repairing, replacing and/or servicing standalone electronic locks.
- Supplying, installing, opening, repairing, replacing and/or servicing all types of vaults and security safes.
- Installing and repairing electric strikes and electronic security hardware.
- Boarding windows and doors.
- Providing a 24-hour callout service and responding to emergency callouts that could come at any time.
- Designing and developing the master key systems for power plants, banks, warehouses, manufacturing plants, and residential complexes.
- Providing quotes and recommendations on upgrading security.
The above list is not exhaustive. Whatever the environment they work in, a locksmith will be responsible for ensuring the safety of their work, tools and any equipment to protect the safety of themselves and other people.
What are the main health and safety risks a locksmith can encounter?
Every occupation, including locksmithing, has its hazards. A major area of risk is the possibility of slips and trips, tripping over tools, toolboxes or tool bags whilst working in sometimes cramped spaces. Slips, trips and falls are one of the top three causes of non-fatal work injuries involving days away from work. Each year they cause thousands of preventable injuries, and they can cause various injuries such as bruises, sprains, scrapes, broken bones and head traumas. Around 1,000 of these injuries involve someone fracturing bones or dislocating joints.
Key aspects of slips and trips include:
- Uneven surfaces
- Trailing cables
- Wet or slippery surfaces
- Changes in level
Electricity and the use of electrical equipment presents a significant risk, so a locksmith needs to ensure that all tools and equipment that they use in the course of their job is fit for purpose. Ensuring tools are in a proper working condition is key to ensuring safety on a job. Inspect all equipment before use and only use if in good working order. Keep cutting equipment sharp to ensure optimum use and cut away from the face and body to prevent injury. Store all equipment in a safe place to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and doesn’t become a hazard in the workplace.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) place duties on people and companies who own, operate or have control over work equipment. PUWER also places responsibilities on businesses and organisations whose employees use work equipment, whether owned by them or not.
PUWER requires that equipment provided for use at work is:
- Suitable for the intended use.
- Safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate.
- Accompanied by suitable health and safety measures, such as protective devices and controls. These will normally include emergency stop devices, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings and warning devices.
- Used in accordance with specific requirements.
Generally, any equipment which is used by an employee at work is covered by PUWER, for example hammers, knives, ladders, drilling machines, power presses, circular saws, photocopiers, lifting equipment (including lifts), dumper trucks and motor vehicles. Similarly, workers providing their own equipment will be covered by PUWER and it will need to comply.
All equipment that uses a flexible wire or cable to connect to a power supply qualifies as a portable appliance and needs to be checked. Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure that they are safe to use.
Most electrical equipment safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defects can only be found by testing. A PAT test involves a visual inspection to check the appliance casing and flex for wear or damage. Plugs are also checked for damage, correct wiring and ensuring that the correct fuse rating is used.
After the equipment has passed a visual inspection it will normally undergo a series of electrical tests using a fully calibrated electrical PAT tester. A label will be attached to each appliance indicating the test results, and any item failing the tests will be easily identifiable and should be removed from service until repaired. You should record and retain the results of all PAT testing in an appliance register for future reference.
Noise is a common occupational hazard most locksmiths face. Exposure to loud noise is enough to cause permanent damage to the ear. Locksmiths use key-making machines which can produce a loud noise; this loud noise has negative health consequences, including difficulty in concentration, stress, extreme fatigue, tinnitus and even loss of the ability to hear.
Manual handling injuries have a major impact on all workplaces and sectors, costing the economy hundreds of millions every year. Manual handling encompasses a wide range of actions including lifting, lowering, pulling, pushing, and carrying awkward and heavy objects; the risks are endless for locksmiths who may experience manual handling injuries such as:
- Back injuries
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as shoulder strain
- Repetitive strain injury (RSI) such as wrist strain
- Soft-tissue injuries to the wrists, arms, shoulders, legs or neck
- Long-term pain in the arms, legs or joints
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can be caused by a variety of tasks at work, such as forceful or repetitive activity, or by poor posture. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearms, elbows, wrists, hands, shoulders and neck. RSI is usually associated with doing a particular activity repeatedly or for a long period of time. For locksmiths, years of working at close quarters with small tools, grub screws and fiddley mechanisms can result in repetitive strain injuries (RSI) or arthritis, especially to fingers, which could seriously impact their ability as a locksmith to do the job properly.
Locksmiths may also suffer from impaired vision over time, due to working with such small items, which can require regular eye tests and spectacles.
Falling from height can cause serious or even fatal injury. Locksmiths should exercise every precaution when working at height. Working at height can also pose risks for others, a worker falling from a height may injure anyone below when they fall. Avoid working directly underneath someone else, where possible, and ensure that any tools or materials kept at a height are well secured so they can’t fall or cause harm.
When working at height, always change tools in secure areas where there is no risk of letting the tools fall, and don’t use tools without attaching them to a work belt when working at height. Tools being used at height should regularly be checked for damage and that there is no damage to lanyards, carabiners, attachment rings or belts.
Locksmiths produce a lot of metal shavings in the course of tasks such as shaping a new key. Metal shavings are extremely dangerous. When it comes in contact with the eyes, it can cause a corneal abrasion, which potentially can lead to blindness if not treated in time. Another danger a locksmith might face in their daily schedule is splinters. Splinters are tiny fragments or shards of metal or wood. Splinters have been known to cause puncture wounds, pain, discolouration and even cysts. If foreign objects such as wood splinters are lodged untreated under the skin for a long time, they can increase the risk of bacterial infection. Apart from metal, locksmiths regularly encounter wooden materials during lock installation in a building.
The metal shavings that locksmiths come into contact with may have the added detriment of lead. Brass keys that are machined to fit into clients’ locks often contain 1.5% to 2.5% lead. Lead is a highly toxic metal that locksmiths may encounter in the course of rekeying or making a duplicate key. Research studies carried out by several medical institutes have found that even a minuscule amount of lead is enough to severely affect the nervous and circulatory systems. Exposure to lead can cause stomach aches, unstable emotions, pain, inability to concentrate and fertility problems.
Injuries from components or packaging during the removal and fitting process are quite common for locksmiths such as cutting themselves on the lock, fittings or sharp-edged packaging. Locksmiths should also remove all old locks and packaging, and clean the work area before leaving to prevent injuries to the general public coming into contact with items left behind.
Many locksmiths are peripatetic, meaning that they are travelling from place to place, in particular working or based in various places throughout their day. It has been estimated that up to a third of all road traffic accidents involve somebody who is at work at the time. Health and safety laws apply to on-the-road work activities the same as to all work activities, and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety management system. Risk assessments for any work-related driving activity should follow the same principles as risk assessments for any other work activity.
The work of a locksmith can often involve working in people’s homes, and these jobs come with a unique set of risks that can be difficult to manage, especially when working alone. Working in a new unfamiliar environment can be dangerous, exposing a locksmith to unknown hazards, such as broken stairs or loose wiring or hazardous materials or working conditions that could put safety at risk. A locksmith may also encounter dangerous situations such as dogs, verbal abuse or even physical violence from the public especially when assisting with evictions, or they may be unable to get help in an emergency.
Develop and follow a plan for working alone in other people’s homes. This could include having a designated contact to call in case of an emergency. Before entering someone’s home, make sure to check in with a supervisor or a designated contact to alert them of your whereabouts. Look for potential hazards, such as loose wires or broken stairs. Make sure to wear the appropriate PPE when working in someone’s home. We will look at PPE later in this guide.
Maintaining a safe work environment is important, particularly in the high-risk work environment faced by locksmiths. It is important that every hazard is met with elimination or, at the minimum, a control measure to mitigate any potential risk.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), the minimum a business must do is:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- Take action to eliminate the hazard or, if this isn’t possible, control the risk
Risk assessment requires making a judgement on Risk Severity. Risk Severity = probability of risk materialising x impact of risk on, for example, a person or people, a business, a property etc.
Probability may be understood as:
- Low (Level 1) – a reasonably informed person would think it very unlikely this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
- Medium (Level 2) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a significant possibility this risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
- High (Level 3) – a reasonably informed person would think there is a very significant or even likely possibility the risk would materialise in the foreseeable future.
Impact may be understood as:
- Low (Level 1) – any impact that is minimal, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is isolated and short-lived.
- Medium (Level 2) – any impact that is significant, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact is limited to one function or group, but there is a material operational impact and the effects may continue.
- High (Level 3) – any impact that is severe, having regard to the importance of interests affected, impairment of function and duration. Typically, the impact impairs a critical function and/or has a systemic impact and the effects may be long-lasting or permanent.
Locksmiths must ensure an assessment has been made of any hazards, which covers:
- What the potential hazard is – the risk assessment should take into consideration, for example, the type of equipment used, the way in which it is used and the environment it is used in
- Who or what could be harmed by the hazard
- How the level of risk has been established
- The precautions taken to eliminate or control that risk
Managing risk is an ongoing process that is triggered when changes affect a locksmith’s work activities; changes such as, but not limited to:
- Changing work practices, procedures or the work environment
- Purchasing new or used equipment or using new substances
- Workforce changes
- Planning to improve efficiency or reduce costs
- New information about the workplace risks becomes available
Risk assessments should be recorded and records regularly reviewed and updated whenever necessary. Should an accident occur, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will request copies of the risk assessments.
There are a number of laws and regulations that apply to locksmithing health and safety including, but not limited to:
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HASAWA) – this part of legislation is the primary regulations that all businesses must abide by.
This Act sets out the general duties which:
- Employers have towards their employees and the members of the public
- Employees have to one another
- Self-employed have towards themselves and others.
The Private Security Industry Act 2001 introduced a set of new licensing requirements for those involved in the security industry where they need to obtain a licence from the Security Industry Authority.
Why is PPE important
Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects workers from hazards such as trips, burns, electrocution, infections and falls. While there is some PPE that is universal to many occupations, locksmiths have certain PPE which is specific to their job.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Eye protection – locksmiths perform a lot of metalwork such as drilling and crafting keys, and there is a high likelihood of shards, wood splinters and metal shavings flying around. Eye protective PPE such as safety goggles, spectacles and face shields can reduce the risk of exposure to these flying debris.
- Cut-resistant gloves – these protect the skin on hands and nail beds. Using a pair of cut-resistant gloves ensures that hands are protected whilst also allowing for easy freedom of movement. This ensures that when using equipment that could potentially be dangerous hands are protected. They also protect against metal shavings and wood splinters.
- Hearing protection – locksmiths are often exposed to noise from drilling etc. Failure to wear dedicated hearing protection equipment such as noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs or earmuffs, either reusable or disposable, can lead to severe damage to the eardrum, tinnitus or even irreversible hearing loss in one or both ears.
- Filtering dust mask – for protection against wood and metal shavings.
- Protective clothing – this is the easiest way to give extra protection to the most sensitive and most at-risk parts of the body. Reinforced elbows and knees ensure that when manoeuvring, working and kneeling joints are protected and they help improve comfort when performing jobs involving kneeling.
- Safety trainers – an alternative to steel toe-cap boots, they offer greater sensations underfoot on ladders and steps.
- Fall protection – while the risk of falling is rare, it is not unheard of, so a locksmith’s PPE should include fall protection equipment, depending on the job site and the structures in place. When carrying out specific jobs where there is a risk of falling from a height, locksmiths might use, for example, a full harness, a retractable type fall arrester, a lanyard with shock absorber, anchor points and/or connectors.
- Mobile phone – lone working locksmiths require a method to maintain contact when working in other people’s homes and whilst on the road.
What training should a locksmith take?
There are no official requirements to become a locksmith; the first and the only officially recognised locksmith qualification in the UK is the 8-day Highfield Level 3 Diploma for Commercial Locksmiths and Property Security.
When locksmiths are trained to work safely, they should be able to anticipate and avoid injury from job-related hazards. Safety training is essential for all locksmiths appropriate to their role, and training should be directly applicable to the responsibilities and daily practices of the person being trained.
This training for locksmiths might include, but is not limited to:
- Health and Safety for Employees
- Health and Safety for Managers
- Manual Handling
- Workplace First Aid
- Working at height
- Slips, Trips and Falls
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- PUWER Awareness
- PAT Testing Awareness
- Lead Awareness
- Ladder safety
- Assessing Risk
- Lone Working
Locksmiths should at a minimum refresh their safety training at least every 2 years and participate in continuing professional development (CPD).
Get started on a course suitable for locksmith
PUWER Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Assessing Risk (Risk Assessment Course)£20 + VAT View course
Lone Working£20 + VAT View course
Working at height£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Employees£20 + VAT View course
Health and Safety for Managers£49 + VAT View course
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)£20 + VAT View course
Slips, Trips and Falls£20 + VAT View course
Lead Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Workplace First Aid£20 + VAT View course
Manual Handling£20 + VAT View course
PAT Testing Awareness£20 + VAT View course
Ladder safety£20 + VAT View course