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OSHA Bulletin: Preventing Fire and/or Explosion Injury from Small and Wearable Lithium Battery Powered Devices

29 Jan 2019 9:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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 1: Example of lithium-metal batteries | Photo Credit: Associated Press (AP)


Image 2: Small wearable camera | Photo Credit: Photo by: Andreas Arnold/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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.

Prevention

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 lithium batteries, chargers, and associated equipment are tested in accordance with an appropriate test standard (e.g., UL 2054) and certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), and are rated for their intended uses.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for storage, use, charging, and maintenance.
  • When replacing batteries and chargers for an electronic device, ensure they are specifically designed and approved for use with the device and they are purchased from the device’s manufacturer or a manufacturer authorized reseller.
  • Remove lithium-powered devices and batteries from the charger once they are fully charged.
  • Store lithium batteries and devices in dry, cool locations and in fire-resistant containers.
  • Avoid damaging lithium batteries and devices. Inspect them for signs of damage, such as bulging/cracking, hissing, leaking, rising temperature, and smoking before use, especially if they are wearable. Immediately remove a device or battery from service and place it in an area away from flammable materials if any of these signs are present.
  • If batteries are damaged, remove from service and dispose in accordance with local, state, and federal regulations. Contact a local battery recycling center for disposal instructions.
  • Follow the employer’s policy or manufacturer’s guidance on how to extinguish small battery fires, which could include using CO2, foam, Class D fire extinguishers (for lithium-metal), ABC dry chemical extinguishers, dirt, or sand.

Training

Ensure that workers handling lithium-powered devices, cells, or batteries in the workplace receive training associated with these products, including training on how to:

  • Verify NRTL certification for batteries, chargers, and associated equipment.
  • Identify defective, damaged, or failing lithium-powered devices and batteries.
  • Remove defective devices or batteries from the workplace.
  • Quickly remove a lithium-powered device from clothing if it feels hot or if the device is leaking, releasing gas, hissing, bulging/cracking, or on fire.

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.

To read the entire OSHA Bulletin, go to https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib011819.html.


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