A master key system manages building security through a hierarchy of keys. In principle, you can control access to different parts of the building (or even different buildings) with a single set of keys. As an office manager or owner, you need a cost-effective way to manage building security, but you may not know enough about master key systems to decide if this type of lock will work for you. Find out how these systems work, and learn more about the things you need to consider before you ask your locksmith, someone like Oakleigh Locksmiths, to install master keys.

How a master key hierarchy works

Master key systems are surprisingly versatile, and you can adapt this type of lock to suit needs for a small business or a large, national organisation. At the top of a master key system hierarchy is a great grand master key, which simply opens every door in your office(s). Beneath this, you can have separate sub-levels of access that you define.

You can set up this hierarchy to match your business needs. For example, you may have a key to open every door in one building and then separate keys that only open locks on each floor. Alternatively, you may have a great grand master key that opens every lock in Australia, with grand master keys for each state, master keys for each city and then sub-master keys for each building. The choice is yours.

How master key locks work

Master key systems use a series of cylindrical locks that you change to cope with a hierarchy of keys. A cylindrical lock uses a series of pins that you align in a perfect shear line with the notches on your key. With a master key system, you also have spacers in the lock chamber that create an extra shear line when you use a certain key. The great grand master key can align all the shear lines, while the sub-master key can only align one (or some) of the shear lines.

The benefits of these systems

A master key system could work well for your office-based business.

The hierarchy system is a great way to control access to different parts of your business. You can customise the different levels to suit your needs, and you then have a simple system that means your staff members don't need huge bunches of keys. Each employee only needs one key because you use the hierarchy to control access to different rooms, floors or buildings.

Master key systems are surprisingly cost-effective. For a start, your locksmith only needs to install simple cylindrical locks. From there, you simply issue one key per employee. What's more, as people join the company, you only need to invest in one new key for each person. Compared to digital locks, this type of security can save you a lot of cash, even if your vendor charges a small set-up fee.

If somebody loses their key, the master hierarchy allows you to limit the damage. For example, if an employee loses a sub-master key, you probably only need to replace the locks on one floor or in one building, according to how you set up your hierarchy. As the keys are not unique to a person, you can also transfer access rights by allowing people to sign over their key.

The downsides of master key systems

A master key system could become a problem if somebody loses the great grand master key. In theory, you would have to replace every lock in the organisation.

According to the nature of your business, a master key system may not meet security requirements. For example, you cannot easily log access in and out of a room or zone. You may decide to use a signing-in sheet, but this is prone to error. This lack of control could become a problem if you handle sensitive customer data.

Data breach notification is only a recommended action in Australia, except where somebody breaches security of national health records. Nonetheless, the Privacy Act expects Australian businesses to take reasonable precautions when handling customers' data. A master key system may not meet this requirement because you cannot track who enters and leaves a room, or accesses a specific zone in your hierarchy.

It's sometimes difficult to manage a master key system in a larger organisation, too. Managers may not understand what each key does, which could lead to escalating costs. For example, some people may order the wrong key or just too many keys. If your master key system is too unwieldy, it's probably not practical for your business.

If you're looking for a simple way to secure your office-based business, a master key system could offer several benefits. That aside, master key systems aren't suitable for everyone, so talk to your local commercial locksmith for specialist advice.