Lithium-ion Battery Explosion
WorkSafe ACT recently attended a workplace where a Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery exploded. The immediate work area was fire-damaged and professional cleaning was needed to remove any contaminants that could have expose workers to a health risk. No workers were exposed or injured during this incident.
A puncture, damage, short circuit, or abuse of a battery can cause ‘thermal runaway’. In the event a Li-ion battery explodes, it will cause extreme heat and a flash, release a toxic vapour into the area and pose immediate and significant risks to workers and others.
As a person conducting business or undertaking (PCBU), WorkSafe ACT reminds you to be aware of the dangers of all types of batteries at your workplace and have emergency procedures in place to protect workers from injury and any resulting exposure to a toxic atmosphere.
What is 'Thermal Runaway'?
Thermal runaway is one of the primary risks related to Li-ion batteries, where the battery cell enters an uncontrolled, self-heating state. Thermal runaway can result in violent cell venting, vapour releasing and fire.
A battery in thermal runaway, where the contents of the battery are the fuel for a fire, is different to a fire fuelled by combustible material such as wood. Once the battery has ignited, it continuously releases energy as heat. A Li-ion battery fire can be extinguished, but reignition through the chemical reaction can occur without warning.
The risks of Li-ion batteries, and how to manage them:
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, a PCBU must ensure the safe use, handling and storage of hazardous chemicals and dangerous substances.
All batteries are hazardous and potentially dangerous if they are not correctly stored, maintained and used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Failing to correctly store, maintain or use a battery can have significant impact on its performance and life. For Li-ion batteries there are significant risks that need to be eliminated or minimised.
To manage the risks associated with Li-ion batteries, you should:
- ensure batteries are stored within the temperature range recommended by the manufacturer and away from flammable materials
- not expose the battery packs to heat or direct sunlight or leave them in hot vehicles for extended periods
- charge batteries using only a charger recommended by the manufacturer
- not charge batteries on combustible surfaces (such as wood, carpet, material, paper, plastics)
- store and transport batteries in a non-flammable container
- regularly inspect a battery condition
- not use batteries that are damaged or swollen, and
- discontinue the charging process and immediately disconnect the battery if you see that a battery is changing shape, starting to balloon, swell up, smoke, or become extremely hot.
The warning signs and what to look out for:
1. Heat: It’s completely normal for batteries to generate some heat when charging or in use. But if your Li-ion battery feels hot to the touch, there’s a good chance it’s defective and at risk of starting a fire.
2. Swelling: When a Li-ion battery fails, another common sign is battery swelling. If the shape of your battery has changed, or it looks swollen, you should stop using it immediately. Similar signs include any type of lump, bulge, or leakage from the device or battery.
3. Noise: Failing Li-ion batteries have been reported to make hissing or cracking sounds.
4. Odour: If you notice a strong or unusual odour coming from the device or battery, this is also a sign that your battery is failing or damaged.
5. Smoke or vapour: This one’s a little more obvious. But if your device is smoking, there is a good chance a fire has already started, in this instance execute your emergency procedure and call 000 for Fire and Rescue.
For more information on battery safety see:
- Managing the Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace Code of Practice
- ACT Emergency Services Agency: Lithium-ion batteries
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