Can Your Fire Extinguishers Put Out a Lithium-ion Battery Fire?

As the UK moves towards a much more decarbonised future, we’ll start to rely more and more on lithium-ion batteries for more efficient energy storage.

What is a lithium-ion battery?

Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly used in products as an alternative to regular, alkaline batteries and their tightly packed battery cells mean they can store much more energy. They’re also lightweight, rechargeable, much more reliable in terms of performance and can survive in extreme temperatures – so there’s no surprise we tend to lean towards this type of battery.

You’ll probably already use lithium-ion batteries in several ways especially if your business uses electric vehicles, e-bikes, drones, e-scooters, laptops, and mobile phones because that’s where they’re commonly found. These types of batteries are used by billions of people every day and don’t pose any significant safety risk unless they’re not handled correctly.

Do lithium-ion batteries pose a major fire hazard?

As with any type of battery, lithium-ion batteries are a potential fire risk when they’re not properly managed especially because they contain flammable electrolytes.  So, as an employer, it’s important you know how to prevent them from being damaged or misused which, in turn, could put your people and business at risk.

To prevent your lithium-ion batteries from catching fire or in some worse case scenarios, exploding, there are some signs to look out for when checking your electrical equipment:

  • Manufacturing defects
  • Physical damage
  • Overheating
  • Overcharging
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What are the risks if they set on fire?

If there are any defects or damage to your lithium-ion batteries, it could lead to what’s known as a ‘thermal runaway’. This is what happens when the battery cell materials and metals inside start to decompose because of a rise in temperature. Once this begins, your lithium-ion battery is at risk of self-heating which can cause the battery to lose its structural integrity. This in turn releases energy that produces heat (and fire) into the areas around the battery allowing it to spread and the release of energy can be so violent, it causes the battery to explode (especially if you use the wrong extinguishing tool in attempt to put it out!)

 

What type of fire extinguisher is needed for lithium-ion batteries?

Before you reach for your traditional foam, powder, or water fire extinguisher, don’t – it won’t put out a lithium-ion battery fire. Instead, you need a Lith-Ex fire extinguisher to hand because it contains Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion (AVD) which smothers and insulates the fire, extinguishing it and preventing it from spreading further.

 

What are my responsibilities as an employer?

You have a legal responsibility to protect your employees so far as is reasonably practicable from the risk of fire under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. If a lithium-ion battery was to set on fire or explode causing harm to someone, and it was later found that you didn’t have substantial safety measures in place, you could face some serious consequences for putting the people in your business at risk.

 

How do I maintain my lithium-ion batteries?

  • Lithium-ion batteries should be stored between 4 and 27 degrees centigrade. Lithium batteries are able to survive in extreme temperatures so an occasional rise or drop in temperature outside these figures isn’t likely to cause a fire, but constant exposure to high or low temperatures is risky.
  • Make sure your lithium-ion batteries are kept away from direct sunlight.
  • Don’t leave lithium-ion batteries charging when the building is unoccupied in case it fails, overheats, or catches fire.
  • Make sure to only use chargers that are recommended by a manufacturer.
  • Along with other types of batteries, make sure your lithium-ion batteries are stored away from any explosive, flammable, or combustible material.

 

How we can help

To make sure your lithium-ion fire extinguishers are fit for purpose, and you’ve got everything in place to protect your people and business,  our trained specialists can carry out a full, efficient Fire Extinguisher Service and issue you with a certificate that proves your business complies with fire safety standards.

Our priority is giving you peace of mind that your business can continue operating safely and compliantly, with absolutely no stress or hassle.

That’s why we also offer support with your Fire Risk Assessments, Emergency Light Testing, and Fire Alarm Maintenance so you can leave your fire safety in the hands of a trusted and experienced safety provider.

To book your Fire Extinguisher Service with us, get in touch with our consultants to receive a no-obligation quote by calling 0800 055 5669.

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