Keys to Lithium Battery Holiday Safety

Posted on 12/19/2023 by Nick Waldron and Roger Marks

In the midst of the holiday season, fire departments from coast to coast are warning their communities about the dangers that lithium batteries can pose—including in Bend, OR; Phoenix, AZ; Jerome, ID; Amarillo, TX; Coral Springs, FL; Fairfield, CT; and Westchester County, NY

With an endless variety of gifts now equipped with batteries to enable features like connectivity, data logging, navigation, or video, there is a good chance that anyone celebrating this season will give or receive at least one lithium battery-powered gift.

Professionals in the business of handling or shipping lithium batteries should be keenly aware of the risks involved in transportation, storage, and disposal already. Fire officials hope that by raising awareness of lithium batteries’ potential hazards and providing safety tips for consumers, they can prevent fires in residential and commercial buildings that unfortunately occur regularly.

Keys to Lithium Battery Holiday Safety

Lithium Battery Holiday Safety Tips

First, everyone who uses devices or vehicles powered by lithium batteries should understand the risks and be able to recognize the signs of a damaged or defective lithium battery.

For consumers, lithium battery safety starts with smart shopping: For products containing lithium batteries, look for an indication on the package that the battery or cell was tested by a qualified testing lab. When buying replacement chargers/cords/accessories, purchase only the items designed for use with your device.

More: NFPA Lithium-ion Battery FAQ

Another lithium battery shopping tip: Avoid products already recalled for potential battery-related safety issues. Your loved one may return what you give them, but you don't want returning the gift to be necessary for the person's physical safety. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission website lists information about product recalls, including recalls directly related to lithium battery incidents, like: 

  • 2,850 laptop power banks recalled because a loose screw may cause batteries to short circuit and overheat, 
  • 12,850 digital video baby monitors recalled due to a risk of burn injury and property damage resulting from lithium batteries overheating and igniting while charging, and
  • 53,000 “hoverboards” recalled due to battery packs overheating and causing fires.

Safe Lithium Battery Handling and Storage 

In addition to the tips above and some important basic recommendations like "do not place batteries into water or fire," other safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and others this holiday season include: 

  • Protect batteries and devices from damage (crushing, puncturing, disassembly).
  • Avoid rough handling, shocks, and vibrations that could damage the battery.
  • Clear nearby areas of conductive surfaces and items.
  • Treat all dropped batteries as an increased potential hazard. Monitor batteries for a few hours after they are dropped.
  • Never store lithium battery powered vehicles (i.e., e-bikes, e-scooters) in your home as a thermal event may cause a house fire and block exits.
According to FDNY, firefighters responded to more than 140 lithium-battery-related structural fires in New York City in the first ten months of last year. Six people died and 140 people were injured because of these fires.

Safely Charging Lithium Battery Devices

Other safety tips related to lithium batteries in the home or workplace related directly to charging. The risk of a thermal runaway event increases during charging, especially when advice like this is not followed:  

  • Never keep charging a device after the battery is fully charged.
  • Never charge a device under your pillow, on your bed, or couch.
And of course, only use chargers and charging cables that are designed for use with your device. Improper charging, over-charging, and improper use are frequently cited contributors to lithium battery incidents.

Lithium Battery Fire Response

Proper responses to lithium battery warning signs can stop a dangerous event from getting worse, or even from occurring altogether. Trained flight crews and responsible passengers demonstrate the benefit of early action:

On March 1, a passenger’s hand carried bag containing a power bank was stowed in the overhead bin. During the flight, smoke was observed emitting from the overhead bin. The bag was removed, and a fire occurred when the bag was opened. Aircrew assisted by a retired fireman extinguished the fire and the flight diverted to a nearby airport. Several passengers and crew were treated for smoke inhalation and the retired firefighter received burns to hands.

On October 23, a passenger approached a flight attendant with a portable lithium-ion battery charger. The passenger observed that their battery pack had expanded and was bulging—a telltale sign of a damaged/defective lithium battery. The flight attendant secured the portable lithium-ion battery in a thermal containment bag as a precautionary measure, and the flight continued without a lithium battery incident.

Read more: Principles to Fight a Lithium Battery Device Fire

What is Thermal Runaway?

When a battery is faulty, it can lead to a hazard cycle known as “thermal runaway.” If a battery begins to overheat beyond what can be vented off, it will increase the temperature inside the cell. This rise in temperature results in increased current, which then causes an increase in chemical reaction rate. As the chemical reaction rate increases, more heat is produced, which starts the cycle all over again.

Not before long, the increase in temperature and pressure becomes too much for the cell, and the battery can “explode” and vent its contents. This can then lead to a chain reaction where nearby cells or batteries go into thermal runaway as well. If there are many batteries being stored together, you could have an entire pallet or storage area with batteries going into thermal runaway.

Lithium Battery Safety and Transportation Training

Lion Technology is a leader in lithium battery-related training for shippers in the United States. Lion's popular Shipping Lithium Batteries training covers the latest regulations for ground, air, and vessel shipments—including updates and Addenda to the IATA DGR and the 2022 IMDG Code.

The course is available in a self-paced or instructor-led format, and provides hazmat general awareness, security awareness, and function-specific training to help satisfy employee hazmat training mandates in 49 CFR 172.704, IATA 1.5, and IMDG 1.3.1.

Enroll in lithium battery training now and get the DOT/OSHA safety course Lithium Battery Safety included for free.

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