Lithium batteries in household items: care and consequences

We use products containing Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries every day and may often not even be aware. These lightweight rechargeable battery packs are found in many electrical devices such as laptops, tablets, mobile phones, e-cigarettes, power tools, drones, remote control cars, e-bikes, and e-scooters. Generally, they are used safely by millions of people every day.

Their increasing use is down to the fact that Li-ion batteries can receive and store far more energy that other types, so a single charge provides much longer use which meets consumer demands.

However, it is important to remember there can be potentially serious consequences when lithium batteries are not used, stored, charged, or disposed of properly.

Are lithium batteries dangerous?
When used properly, no. However, lithium batteries present a significant fire risk when over-charged, short-circuited, damaged, submerged in water or exposed to extreme temperatures. It’s also important to charge them safely. When used incorrectly, the cells can fail.

Failure leads to a chain of events, starting with a heat reaction before a thermal runway, smoke, fire and often an explosion. The resulting blaze will burn at a temperature of around 400 degrees Celsius.

How are our customers being impacted?
Battery failures in household items can create fires which are very difficult to extinguish. This often causes serious property damage, and in some unfortunate circumstances injury – even deaths.

Zurich Insurance have seen claims for lithium battery fire claims triple over three years, with most caused by incorrect chargers, defective batteries and items being left on charge for too long.

Zurich have kindly provided useful tips to raise awareness and reduce the risk of lithium battery related fires in your home:

• Often fires originate from batteries overheating and igniting whilst being charged. Li-ion batteries should not be continually on charge or left overnight. Lithium battery fires can take hold quickly and restrict your means of escape. If replacing a battery with “after-market” products, ensure that they are compatible with the appliance and the charger.
• Leaving devices on charge unattended for long periods of time should be avoided. We have seen a trend in fires originating from power tools being left on charge unattended in household sheds, garages, and commercial properties.
• Always use the charger that came with your device. If you need to buy a replacement, choose a branded, genuine product from a supplier you can trust. There are a lot of fakes on the market and readily available online, and it can be difficult to spot the difference.
• Only chargers which meet UK safety regulations should be used. Whilst the charger may be genuine, don’t be tempted to use an overseas charger. Just because a charger has a similar plug does not mean it will charge the battery safely.
• Electrical Safety First are campaigning against the unlawful sale of dangerous electronics and provide useful guidance on ways to stay safe when buying electrical goods.

Martyn Allen, Technical Director at Electrical Safety First, said: “We urge people to be extremely careful where they buy e-scooters and e-bikes, as well as the batteries and chargers for them.

“The Li-ion batteries that power these vehicles can cause explosive fires if they are of poor quality or misused, so exercising real care in how they are used and stored is also essential. Our main takeaway is firstly, buy products like these from a reputable retailer you know and trust. Secondly, always follow the manufacturer’s guidance on using them, including safe charging.”

• Don’t cover chargers/devices whilst on charge as this may accelerate overheating. This includes using your laptop power cable in bed.
• Don’t leave devices or mobility vehicles on charge blocking emergency exits. In the event of a fire, this will impact your ability to exit the building quickly and safely.
• Ensuring devices are used in line with manufacturers’ guidelines reduces the risk of breakdown. Many devices are not meant to be used consistently for long periods of time and should be stored and only operated at certain temperatures.
• Register lithium battery powered devices with the manufacturer/supplier to be made aware of product recalls. Electrical Safety First have created a useful product recall search section on their website.
• Do not use batteries which have been subjected to physical damage, or that are swollen or deformed. These should not be put into general waste bins but taken to your local recycling centre instead.
• Don’t leave your device in direct sunlight, exposed to hot temperatures, and ensure vapes and smaller items don’t inadvertently find their way into the laundry. All of which can lead to battery failure.

Has your household device reached ‘end of life?

Download Zurich’s practical guidance how to dispose of lithium battery powered devices in a sustainable and safe way.

We are here to help

If you are concerned about how this affects you and your business and would like support in assessing your needs, we are here to help. Please do get in touch for confidential advice and guidance.

This article was adapted from an article by Zurich which can be found here.