By: Edward L. Blais, JD, CIC, CPIA
There are many things that may keep a property owner up at night, from a difficult tenant to a breakdown of essential equipment. Lately, though, your main concern might center around the alarming increase in fires in residential, commercial, and mixed-use buildings that have been caused by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are typically smaller and lighter than other types of batteries but can hold the same amount of energy, so they have rapidly been adopted by tech companies as the preferred power source for a variety of today’s most popular rechargeable electronic devices, including drones, hoverboards, and e-scooters and e-bikes.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that lithium-ion batteries generally provide an effective, efficient, and safe source of energy and that there is a low probability of them catching fire if they are treated correctly. However, the NFPA has also stated that serious problems, like overheating, fires, and explosions, may arise if these batteries have manufacturing defects, are damaged, or are not being used, stored, or charged properly.
9 SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE LITHIUM-ION BATTERY SAFETY TIPS
We know your goal as a building owner is to minimize the likelihood of any risk that could impact you, your property, or your tenants. In the case of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, you are going to need to enlist your tenants’ help to try to prevent this disaster. A good way to start is to make sure your tenants understand the dangers associated with these batteries and the devices they power, and to confirm that your tenants are sticking to best safety practices, like the following:
- Only purchasing devices, batteries, and charging equipment listed by a nationally recognized testing lab, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and solely from reputable retailers (versus online marketplaces where it’s difficult to tell a product’s origin).
- Before using a device, carefully reading the owner’s manual and manufacturer’s instructions for guidelines on charging and storing their specific device and battery.
- Only using the battery and charger that came with or is especially designed for their device, and only purchasing replacements from a well-known brand (rather than buying aftermarket products, which are associated with a higher risk of fire).
- Choosing a hard surface, like a desk, table, or counter, on which to charge their devices and keeping them away from anything that can catch fire.
- Never charging their device or device battery overnight or after it is fully charged, and only charging one device or device battery at a time to prevent overloading the circuit.
- When charging or storing a larger device, like an electric scooter or bike, making sure it’s not blocking a fire escape or exit route and that it’s not near anything that can get hot.
- Routinely inspecting each device and battery to make sure they are functioning properly, there is no damage, and the battery is not cracked, bulging, or leaking.
- Disposing of a battery properly if it is damaged or at the end of its useful life, including not putting them in the regular trash or municipal recycling bins.
- Staying up to date on product recalls related to their device or device batteries by subscribing to email updates from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Finally, your tenants should be aware of signs that their device or device battery, or both, are in real trouble, which can include a battery giving off an odor or too much heat, changing color or shape, or making odd noises. These are some of the problems that can escalate to an emergency in minutes, so it’s critical that your tenants can recognize them and know to call 911 right away.
As lithium-ion batteries become even more prevalent in electronic devices, the potential for an incident to happen certainly increases. But by spreading information about how to safely use, charge, and store these products, building owners may be able to better safeguard their tenants as well as their valuable investment from this threat. The Andover Companies is committed to helping make this responsibility easier by continuing to provide you with insights into protecting the things that are most important to you and your tenants.