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OSHA issues safety bulletin on hazards of lithium batteries, lithium-powered devices

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Washington — OSHA has released a Safety and Health Information Bulletin warning employers and workers of potential fire and explosion hazards stemming from lithium batteries used to power small or wearable electronic devices.

More than 25,000 overheating or fire incidents – involving more than 400 types of lithium battery-powered products – occurred between January 2012 and July 2017, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Status Report on High Energy Density Batteries Project, published on Feb. 12, 2018.

“Lithium batteries are generally safe and unlikely to malfunction (i.e., fail), but only so long as there are no defects and the batteries are not damaged,” OSHA states in the Jan. 18 bulletin. “When lithium batteries fail to operate safely, they may present a fire or explosion hazard.”

Battery damage can occur from physical impact, exposure to extreme temperatures or failure to follow manufacturers’ recommendations when charging a device or battery.

 

OSHA’s advice for prevention and training includes:

  • Make sure lithium batteries and all other equipment are tested under appropriate standards, certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory and rated for their intended uses.
  • Follow manufacturers’ instructions for storage, use, charging and maintenance.
  • Ensure replacement batteries and chargers are designed and approved for use with specific devices. Buy batteries or chargers from the device’s manufacturer or an authorized reseller.
  • Remove lithium-powered devices and batteries from chargers when they are fully charged.
  • Store devices and batteries in fire-resistant containers and in cool, dry locations.
  • Inspect devices and batteries before use for signs of damage such as bulging, cracking, hissing, leaking and smoking, especially if they are wearable. If any of these signs are present, immediately remove a device or battery from service and place it away from flammable materials.
  • Ensure workers remove a device from clothing if it feels hot or shows any of the aforementioned, or similar, signs of damage.
  • Follow local, state and federal regulations on proper disposal. Contact a local battery recycling center for disposal instructions.
  • Follow manufacturers’ guidelines or employer policies when extinguishing small battery fires.

“Ensure that an emergency action plan for a workplace with lithium-powered devices or batteries includes lithium-related incident response procedures based on manufacturers’ instructions for responding to battery failures, including fires or explosions,” OSHA states, adding that employers should communicate information about the hazards of lithium-powered devices and lithium batteries to workers.

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