Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Managing safety risks amid the rise of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles


Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.

The shift toward alternative energy-powered vehicles, such as electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, stands as a pivotal measure in combating climate change and lessening reliance on fossil fuels. These innovative vehicle platforms offer a promising route to diminish our carbon footprint and decrease dependency on traditional fuel sources. However, they also introduce a distinct set of safety hazards, prompting concerns across home, workplace and fleet safety environments.

Addressing challenges and precautions with EVs

EVs, powered by lithium-ion batteries, lead the charge in the realm of sustainable transportation. Although lithium-ion battery technology opens doors to advanced energy storage capabilities, it also carries significant fire and explosion risks.

Current understanding of reactive chemistry and fire-safety issues associated with thermal runaway hazards stemming from lithium-ion batteries has improved. These hazards can arise from various factors, including manufacturing defects, charging system malfunctions, end-of-life battery handling and extreme abuse. Instances of battery failure often entail toxic gas emissions, fires, jet flames and explosion risks, creating challenging scenarios for workers and emergency responders alike.

Further, EVs operate at high voltages, amplifying the risk of electric shock for workers interacting with the vehicle’s electrical system, particularly during maintenance or emergency situations. Consequently, the automotive service and collision repair industries face significant safety exposures, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of safety protocols instituted by manufacturers.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: Mitigating risks

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, although less common than EVs, offer another eco-friendly alternative for vehicle propulsion. Hydrogen fuel cells are gradually making their way into the automotive market, but their adoption in industrial settings, particularly in fork trucks, has seen swifter uptake in industrial and distribution center occupancies.

Hydrogen, a highly flammable gas stored at high pressures, presents inherent risks. Its odorless nature and virtually invisible flame at the moment of combustion make leak detection challenging. Cryogenic storage of hydrogen further adds the risk of severe burns shortly after contact. Establishing and operating hydrogen refueling centers necessitates meticulous engineering safety evaluations and the implementation of critical safeguards.

Similar to EVs, hydrogen vehicles incorporate safety features such as multiple sensors and automatic shut-off valves to prevent leaks and safeguard occupants. Understanding the unique safety precautions and emergency procedures specific to fuel cell platforms is crucial, ensuring their effective implementation and maintenance.


As the automotive industry adapts to meet sustainability objectives, the safety of alternative fuel vehicles emerges as a paramount concern for the safety community. Although the risks associated with EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles remain notable, safety professionals must actively engage in available training programs to enhance their proficiency in safely managing this evolving technological landscape.


This article represents the views of the authors and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

Carol Dietrich is the director of training for DEKRA North America ( With more than 20 years of experience in the learning and development field, she has a proven track record of developing and delivering innovative, engaging and effective learning solutions that align with the organizational strategy and goals.

Mike Snyder is the vice president of operational risk management for DEKRA North America’s process safety practice. As an expert occupational and process safety leader with extensive chemical and municipal risk management sector experience, he guides organizations in pragmatic, cost-effective risk-management decision-making.



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