Protecting Against Lithium Batteries

Increasing Vigilance and Safety Measures

As the popularity of electric vehicles and portable devices powered by lithium-ion batteries continues to rise, so does the concern over safety. Recent reports indicate a significant increase in lithium-ion battery fires, with a staggering 150% surge in incidents by September 2022 compared to the previous year. These fires have struck not only electric cars but also smaller vehicles like e-scooters and e-bikes, some of which have been attributed to unsafe conversion kits and non-compliant batteries purchased online.

Recognizing the Danger

Lithium-ion batteries are known for their potential to generate toxic gases and ignite fires or explosions when damaged or overheated. Identifying the warning signs can be a matter of life and death. If your device or vehicle exhibits any of these signs, immediate action is essential:

  • Heat: Excessive heat during charging or use may indicate a defective battery.
  • Bulging: A swollen or misshapen battery is a clear sign of trouble.
  • Noise: Strange hissing or cracking sounds from the battery.
  • Smell: If you detect an unusual or strong odor.
  • Performance: Longer charge times or a failure to charge fully.

If you observe any of these warning signs, shut off the device, unplug it, and contact the manufacturer or retailer promptly. It’s critical to follow these guidelines to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire.

Reducing the Risk

To ensure the safety of your e-bike or e-scooter charging practices, consider these safety measures:

  • Stay Vigilant: Be on the lookout for signs of battery failure.
  • Avoid Unattended Charging: Never leave your battery charging while you are away or sleeping.
  • Check for Safety Standards: Ensure your battery and charger meet UK safety standards.
  • Let It Cool: Allow the battery to cool before charging.
  • Unplug After Charging: Once the battery is fully charged, disconnect the charger.
  • Install Smoke Alarms: Place smoke alarms in areas where you charge your batteries.
  • The Chartered Trading Standards Institute also warns against purchasing non-compliant devices, urging consumers to:
  • Buy from Reputable Retailers: Purchase e-bikes, e-scooters, chargers, and batteries from trusted retailers.
  • Avoid Counterfeit Products: Do not buy counterfeit batteries or chargers and ensure devices display a valid UKCA or CE mark.
  • Check Compatibility: Confirm that separate components, such as batteries and chargers, are compatible.
  • Register Products: Register your products with the manufacturer to validate warranties and safety recalls.
  • Verify Recalls: Ensure that your purchases are not subject to a product recall by checking Electrical Safety First’s website.

Additional Risks and Proper Disposal

Beyond safety concerns for users, lithium-ion batteries pose other risks:

Maintenance Workers: Those dealing with electric vehicles powered by high-voltage lithium-ion batteries face electric shock and re-ignition/fire risks when handling damaged batteries. This is due to the “stranded” energy that remains in damaged cells.

Safe Disposal: Incorrect disposal of lithium-ion batteries is a growing concern, with nearly 700 fires a year in the UK attributed to batteries thrown into household waste. Lithium-ion batteries should never be discarded with regular rubbish or recycling; instead, consult your local authority’s website for proper disposal guidelines.

By being vigilant and taking these precautions, we can all contribute to a safer environment for electric vehicles and devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, reducing the risk of catastrophic fires and environmental hazards.

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