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Fire Risk and Insurance: Tackling Lithium Battery Challenges

Understanding Martyn's Law:

A Guide for Businesses 

What are lithium-ion batteries and what have they got to do with insurance?


Lithium-ion batteries, often called Li-ion, are a crucial type of rechargeable battery in today's tech world. They were first made in the 1970s and then sold to the public in 1991 by Sony. Now, they power a wide range of devices, from mobile phones and laptops to electric scooters, bikes, and cars.


They are favoured because they store a lot of energy without being too heavy. This feature is great for portable devices and electric vehicles. They also have a low self-discharge rate, which means they last a long time.


This guide looks at the risks associated with lithium batteries and discusses ways to ensure their safety. Awareness of emerging risks like these is essential for providing good insurance in a world that relies more and more on electric power and new technologies.


Fire Risks Associated with Lithium-ion Batteries


Lithium batteries are efficient, but they come with fire risks. These risks are mainly due to the battery's potential to overheat. Overheating can lead to a thermal runaway, which can cause a fire or explosion.


The batteries are made with highly flammable and reactive materials. If a battery is damaged, overcharged, or poorly made, it can get too hot and lead to a thermal runaway. This risk is there even when the battery isn't being used, especially if the battery management system (BMS) that should keep an eye on the battery's power and condition isn't working correctly.


Thermal runaways can cause a battery to give off harmful gases like hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen fluoride. If a battery breaks open or releases gases because of thermal runaway, these gases might catch fire right away. This is more likely if the battery is fully charged. Sometimes, these gases may not catch fire immediately. However, they could still explode or burn suddenly if they meet a spark or flame.



Scenarios Leading to Fires:


  1. Overcharging: Lithium batteries that are overcharged are more likely to catch fire. Overcharging causes the voltage to go too high, which creates excessive heat.

  2. Physical Damage: If lithium batteries are hit, dropped, or pierced, their internal structure can get damaged. This damage can cause short circuits and can lead to fires.

  3. Electrical Short-circuiting: Often caused by production faults, design errors, or damage. A short circuit can quickly create a lot of heat and start a fire inside the battery.

  4. Poor storage: Keeping batteries in hot or poorly ventilated areas increases the risk of thermal runaway.


Doing fire risk assessments for businesses that use lithium battery technology involves figuring out how likely these dangers are and what their effects could be. This also means looking at how good the safety setups are, like fire-stopping systems and battery management systems. For large-scale operations, like power banks or industrial settings, things like the design of the building and how prepared it is for emergencies also need to be looked at.


Incidents of Lithium Battery Fires


Lithium battery fires are rare but can be very serious. Here are some key examples that show the risks and damage caused by these fires.


  1. Boeing 787 Dreamliner Incidents: One of the most well-known incidents with lithium battery fires happened with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2013. Several of these aeroplanes had problems with their batteries, which led to fires. For instance, a lithium-ion battery pack caught fire in the electronics area of a parked 787 at Boston's Logan Airport. It was found that the fire was due to design flaws in the battery and insufficient testing. This led to the entire fleet being grounded worldwide and caused major changes in how aeroplanes use and regulate lithium batteries.

  2. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Recall: The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was recalled after many devices caught fire in 2016. The problem was with the battery design, which caused short-circuiting and thermal runaway. This incident caused Samsung big financial losses due to the recall and damaged its reputation. It showed how important it is to test batteries and control their quality thoroughly.

  3. E-scooter Battery Fires: E-scooters have gained popularity in urban areas, but concerns have arisen due to instances of lithium battery fires. Usually, these fires occur while the scooters are being charged. This is more likely if the wrong chargers are used or if the batteries are not properly maintained. Since e-scooter batteries are small but need a lot of energy and get bumped around, they are more likely to get damaged and catch fire.


These incidents highlight the need for thorough risk assessments when insuring products or places that use lithium batteries. Each case spotlights possible weaknesses and the need to follow safety standards. When it comes to insurance, the wider effects of such incidents include liability risks, the chance of big claims, and harm to a business's reputation.


Fire Safety and Risk Assessment for Lithium Batteries

When it comes to using lithium batteries, there are several risk factors that can impact their safety. Awareness of these risks is crucial to avoid accidents and ensure safe usage. Here are the key factors to consider:


Type and setup: There are three forms of lithium batteries: pouch, prismatic, and cylindrical. Each type has its own risks of damage and failure. How these batteries are set up and used in devices or systems also affects their safety.


Environmental conditions: Battery safety depends mainly on how and where they are used. This involves the temperature, humidity, and how close they are to flammable materials. If batteries get too hot or do not have enough cooling, they can overheat. This increases the risk of fire.


Correct charging practices: Charging batteries the wrong way can increase fire risk. To keep batteries safe, use the right chargers and follow the recommended guidelines for voltage and current.


Trusted sources: An often-overlooked factor is where the batteries come from. They should be sourced from reputable manufacturers and suppliers only. Trusted sources are more likely to meet strict safety and quality standards, which reduces the risk of defects that can cause fires.


Choose suppliers that meet international safety standards such as from ISO. Also, make sure the batteries have been fully tested and checked for quality before being sold.


Mitigation Tools and Resources


Making sure lithium batteries are safe from fire risks involves using several tools and methods:


Thermal Imaging Cameras: These cameras can check how hot batteries get in storage or when charging. They help spot any overly hot areas before they cause issues.


Battery Management Systems (BMS): A well-set-up BMS is essential. It keeps track of the battery's health, including its charge, temperature, and whether all parts work well.


Safety Standards and Guidelines: Following safety guidelines from groups such as the Fire Protection Association (FPA) is key. You can find the FPA’s ‘Need to Know’ guides at the bottom of this page.


It's important to keep detailed records of risk assessments. This means writing down the risks, how likely they are to happen, the effects, and how to reduce them. These assessments should be regularly updated and reviewed to include new information and technology.


Procedures for Handling Lithium-Ion Battery Fires


Fires involving lithium-ion batteries are complex because they can include electrical parts and flammable liquids and gases. These fires don't fall into just one category; they cover several, including class A, B, and C fires. When a lithium-ion battery catches fire, only people who are trained to deal with these emergencies should handle it. They must look at the situation closely and choose the safest way to respond, considering how intense and advanced the fire is.


Key steps are to lower the oxygen around the fire and cover the flames to weaken them. Cooling the area with water helps stop the fire from spreading. It's crucial to control the situation so the fire in the original battery cell can slowly go out under safe conditions.


The Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion (AVD) extinguisher is useful for such fires. Though not meeting the BS 5306 standards for fire extinguishing systems, these extinguishers are good at applying a cooling and oxygen-blocking layer right onto the battery cells. This helps keep the heat in and reduces the risk of the fire spreading to nearby cells. Special fire containment bags are recommended for smaller gadgets like mobile phones that start to overheat. However, only trained professionals wearing the right protective gear should use these bags.


For more details and technical guidance, check out the "Need to Know" documents by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) at the end of this guide. These documents provide useful information on managing lithium battery risks.


Proper Disposal and Storage of Lithium-Ion Batteries

It's essential to dispose of and store lithium batteries safely to prevent fires and protect the environment. Awareness of how to do this properly will help reduce risks and comply with safety standards. Here is a simple guide on how it's done.


Disposal of Lithium Batteries


Lithium batteries must be disposed of according to local and national rules. Take them to recycling or disposal centres that are equipped to safely handle hazardous materials. Do not throw them into regular waste. Many shops and manufacturers have recycling programs or take-back services. A recycle centre locator, such as this one from recyclenow.com, can help you with this. These help to ensure that the batteries are dealt with safely when they are no longer usable.


Storage of Lithium Batteries


Store lithium-ion batteries in cool and dry places to prevent them from getting damaged and to reduce the risk of overheating. Keep them away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. For batteries that won't be used for a while, keep their charge levels at about 30-50% to help them last longer and stay safe. Fully charged or nearly empty batteries are more likely to get damaged and can be dangerous. Also, storing loose batteries in protective cases is a good idea. This stops them from touching things that conduct electricity, which could lead to sparks.


Fire Risk Assessment


Regularly check stored batteries for signs of damage, such as swelling, leaks, or changes in shape. If a battery is damaged, dispose of it right away to avoid the risk of a fire. Make sure that fire suppression and handling equipment is available near where you store batteries. Also, staff should be trained on what to do in case of emergencies involving lithium-ion batteries.


Enhancing Policy Value


Handling lithium batteries correctly is crucial for every business. This ensures safety standards are met and helps avoid costly accidents, keeping insurance policies effective and valuable. These measures are not just about following the rules; they are about making sure that the use and disposal of lithium batteries are safe and sustainable.


Stay safe and secure with RiskSTOP


It's essential to know the risks of using lithium batteries and to take strong safety steps to lower these dangers. For insurance professionals, being aware of these risks is key to creating policies that protect clients and promote safety.


Doing thorough fire risk assessments and following the best ways to use, store, and dispose of batteries can greatly cut down the risk of fires and accidents. These actions are crucial for keeping businesses safe from the risks of lithium technology.


At RiskSTOP, we know how important it is to manage risks effectively. Good risk management helps keep costs down from property and liability claims, which improves financial results. But it's not just about money. It's also about keeping people safe and protecting property. We recognise that any loss can cause both emotional and financial stress. That's why we put customer care at the heart of everything we do. This is what sets us apart. Start working with RiskSTOP today.


As mentioned in this guide, for more detailed technical guidance on using and storing lithium batteries, please refer to the Fire Protection Association's 'Need to Know Guide RE1 & RE2', which can be downloaded via the links below:


Need to Know Guide RE1 - BESS Commercial Lithium-ion Batteries
.pdf
Download PDF • 2.55MB

Need to Know Guide RE2 - Lithium-ion Battery Use and Storage
.pdf
Download PDF • 2.34MB

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