Charge right: Lithium battery safety

Lithium batteries are common in everyday life and on the worksite, their lightweight, long life, interchangeability and quick charge benefits mean that they are now used in everything from laptops to power tools to EVs. But did you know that they pose a significant risk and need to be a part of your health and safety plan?

What’s the risk?

Lithium batteries of all sizes have the potential to overheat and catch fire. The fire is hotter, harder to put out and the smoke from these fires is incredibly toxic. Lithium batteries generally overheat if they get wet, damaged or are used with incorrect charging equipment. 

Damaged batteries can explode at any time giving off flames that burn anywhere between 500 and 1000 degrees celsius. These fires are very difficult to extinguish as both water and CO2 will only suppress the fire, not extinguish it. Even if the fire has been suppressed it can still ignite again if the battery still contains energy to burn. Because of this, lithium batteries need to be properly cared for according to the manufacturer’s instructions to minimise the risk, aside from that, you need a plan in place in case of a fire. 

Hot tip: The bigger the battery the bigger the risk 

Ways to minimise the risk:

  • Storage: Keep lithium batteries away from spaces where a fire could ignite other things and spread easily. Also, keep them away from extreme temperatures and moisture. 
  • Charging: 
    • Always use the correct charger for the battery and do not over charge. Incompatible chargers lead to overcharging and overheating increasing the risk of fire. 
    • Do not leave batteries charging overnight or unattended. Noise and smoke are early warning signs. 
    • Consider using a smart charger that monitors battery status and can disconnect power if there is a fault. 
  • Remote disconnection: Provide easily accessible means for remote disconnection of the battery, think about if you would need to move past it to switch it off at the source if it went up. 
  • Enhanced fire safety measures: Put in place fire-resistant measures near charging sites. For example; Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. Wherever possible charge in a cool dry place that lessens the chance of a fire getting into a structure. 
  • Monitor: Always check equipment for damage during and after use. Damage could include signs of being dropped, crushed or punctured. 
  • Emergency preparedness & PPE: Develop emergency response plans specific to lithium battery fires, including clear evacuation instructions. Provide clear training on the dangers, insulated tools and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as insulated gloves for employees involved in any equipment/battery maintenance, or better yet, give it to a professional to get it checked.

Safe lithium battery disposal

Never dispose of Lithium batteries in general rubbish as it can result in a fire in your bin or on the way to a transfer station, creating a risk to those transporting them. The manufacturer should be able to advise safe disposal or check out your local battery recycling centre. 

Lithium batteries are going to continue playing a crucial role in our workplaces and lifestyles, so it’s necessary to recognize the potential hazards associated with them. By having awareness of these risks and good practices, we can work together to reduce the potential dangers, resulting in safer working environments where Lithium batteries are used.

If you have any questions, give the Hazardco team a call today!

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