Avoid the Top 4 Lithium Battery Shipping Mistakes

Posted on 6/28/2021 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

Lithium battery consumer demand is increasing 22% annually according to a recent IATA presentation.

Consumers have stepped up the purchase of smart devices such as mobile phones and tablets, robot vacuum cleaners, gaming consoles, and laptops. Rechargeable Li-Ion batteries are also used to supply energy to a growing array of medical equipment and power tools. Demand for portable energy sources for industrial automation and battery-operated material handling equipment is also on the rise.

The auto industry’s need for lithium-ion batteries to produce electric vehicles is expected to propel demand in the years to come.

More Batteries, More Shipments

Steadily increasing demand for lithium batteries means more battery shipments traversing the highways, skies, and oceans every day.

In its Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), US DOT includes a list of frequently cited compliance violations in 49 CFR Appendix A to Subpart D of Part 107. For each common hazmat shipping violation, the regulations list a corresponding baseline penalty amount.

Below, we explore four of the most common lithium battery shipping violations and how to avoid them.

Offering lithium batteries that are not protected against short circuit [$15,000]

If a lithium battery short circuits, it can generate heat that may lead to thermal runaway – a self-perpetuating exothermic reaction that is difficult to control.

Shippers may protect against short circuits by packaging batteries in non-conductive inner packagings that completely enclose the cell or battery, using strong outer packaging, preventing shifting of the lading or other cargo falling on or against the batteries or the devices they are contained in, taping terminals, or by other means.

Offering lithium batteries in unauthorized packages [$12,500]  

The hazmat regulations list six different proper shipping names (PSNs) and UN ID numbers for lithium batteries. Associated with each PSN is a packaging reference that authorizes the types, testing, ratings, and exception requirements of packagings that are authorized for use.

Larger lithium batteries (a.k.a. “fully regulated” lithium batteries) typically require the use of UN specification packaging that has been designed and tested to exacting standards.  

Offering lithium batteries in transportation on passenger aircraft or misclassifying them for air transport [$30,000]

Not all lithium batteries can fly on passenger aircraft. To know which lithium battery shipments must be shipped by cargo aircraft, shippers must understand the regulations that apply.

Factors like total weight of the package(s), lithium metal content, watt-hour rating, state-of-charge, and orientation of the batteries (in-equipment, with-equipment, or standalone) all influence how your lithium batteries may be shipped by air. 

Master the ins and outs of lithium battery shipping with reliable hazmat training to ship by ground, air, and vessel with the Shipping Lithium Batteries online course. 

Failure to prepare batteries to prevent damage in transit [$6,000]

Lithium batteries must be packaged in a way to prevent damage in transit. For example, they must not be overpacked with incompatible materials (e.g., Class 1 explosives, (Class 1), flammable gas (Division 2.1), flammable solids (4.1) or oxidizers (5.1)

Lithium batteries should be cushioned to prevent shifting of the contents so that they will not rub against the inside of the package or each other. When UN specification packaging is not required, the outer packaging should be strong and in good condition.

What is a “Baseline” Penalty?

Hazmat inspectors use the baseline penalty amounts listed in the hazmat regulations as a starting point when they issue a Notice of Violation for noncompliance with the HMR.  With the baseline in mind, DOT considers additional factors--the circumstances of the violation, its extent and gravity, the shipper’s culpability and compliance history, and others. Based on those additional factors, DOT may increase or decrease the penalty amount they assess to the shipper.

A Call to Criminalize Lithium Battery Shipping Abuses

During IATA’s annual Cargo Media Day in May 2021, Senior IATA vice president Nick Careen made it clear that incidents involving undeclared or improperly prepared lithium batteries remain an area of major concern for IATA leadership.

Careen called on governments to take on more responsibility to stop rogue lithium battery producers and exporters from endangering supply chain personnel, passengers, and pilots by offering untested, undeclared, or noncompliant lithium batteries for air transportation.

“Nobody has ever been held criminally responsible for all these risks introduced into our supply chain,” Careen said, “That has to change.

Avoid Penalties with Effective Hazmat Training

Very few shippers purposely skirt the lithium batter regulations to save money or for convenience. The vast majority of shippers are serious about safety and committed to protecting the public, their organization's compliance record, and their own reputation.  

Often these violations occur because the shipper does not realize that lithium batteries are regulated as hazardous materials or failed to properly interpret the complex US and international regulations. 

Designed to help satisfy DOT and IATA DGR training mandates for hazmat employees, the Shipping Lithium Batteries online course will get employees up to speed on the latest regulations and help your shipping team prevent costly mistakes and potential disasters–especially when shipping lithium batteries by air.

Tags: hazmat shipping, lithium batteries

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