Small and wearable electronic devices used in workplaces (e.g., body cameras) rely on a power source that stores a high amount of energy in a small space (i.e., high energy density). Lithium cells provide sustained power and often have the capability to recharge. When designed, manufactured, and used properly, lithium batteries are a safe, high energy density power source for devices in the workplace.
While lithium batteries are normally safe, they may cause injury if they have design defects, are made of low quality materials, are assembled incorrectly, are used or recharged improperly, or are damaged. In February 2018, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Status Report on High Energy Density Batteries Project reported over 25,000 overheating or fire incidents involving more than 400 types of lithium battery-powered consumer products that occurred over a five-year period.
Many consumer products have practical applications in small and large businesses. Ensuring these products will operate safely in workplaces begins with using batteries, chargers, and associated equipment that are tested in accordance with an appropriate test standard (e.g., UL 2054) and certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). Manufacturer’s instructions provide procedures for use, charging, and maintenance that is specific to each device and necessary to prevent damage to the lithium batteries (See Image 1). For example, some batteries will overcharge if a charger is used that does not turn off when the battery is fully charged.
Image 2. Small wearable camera
Source/Copyright: Andreas Arnold/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Workers who wear or frequently handle lithium-powered devices or batteries are particularly at risk if a lithium battery catches fire or explodes since the device or battery is close to the body. For example, small cameras worn by workers (e.g., police and security personnel), as shown in Image 2, can cause burns or other serious injury if the lithium battery catches fire or explodes while worn. To prevent injury, it is important for employers and workers to understand a lithium-powered device’s basic function, hazards, and safe use.
Workplace injuries from lithium battery defects or damage are preventable and the following guidelines will assist in incorporating lithium battery safety into an employer’s Safety and Health Program:
Ensure that workers handling lithium-powered devices, cells, or batteries in the workplace receive training associated with these products, including training on how to:
Ensure that an emergency action plan (EAP) for a workplace with lithium-powered devices or batteries includes lithium-related incident response procedures based on manufacturer’s instructions for responding to battery failures including fires or explosions.
Ensure that appropriate information about the hazards of lithium-powered devices and lithium batteries is communicated to exposed workers (e.g., during repair of lithium-powered devices or during recycling activities) and that workers receive training on the physical and health hazards associated with lithium-ion and/or lithium-metal cells or batteries.
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