How are you looking after your lithium batteries? With an increased awareness about the dangers associated with lithium-ion batteries in the workplace, it’s a good idea to take a look at your lithium battery stores to see if you can improve safety. Lithium-ion batteries have only been around for a relatively short time, so there’s still a lot to be learnt about the exact ways to handle, use, charge and store these cells. Whether they’re powering solar panels, industrial robots, e-cigarettes or hybrid vehicles, the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries is growing – as are the incidents of Li-ion fires. To make your lithium battery storage the safest it can be, we’ve compiled some tips that you can action right now.

One of the biggest risks with lithium-ion batteries is the lack of awareness about their risks. So, we suggest using this post as a basic guideline for creating reason standing operating procedures and policies around the handling, charging and storage of these cells in your own workplace.

REMEMBER: It’s the flammable electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries that is capable of ignition. And each type of Li-on battery has a different amount of electrolyte. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re using and storing your batteries in the safest possible way.

1. Never Charge on a Soft or Combustible Surface

Due to the possibility of your batteries succumbing to fire or thermal runaway while they’re on charge, it’s important to create the safest possible environment while your batteries are charging. One key point to remember is that a soft surface (such as a couch) or one located near combustibles will only accelerate the speed at which the fire can take hold.

As lithium-ion battery fires produce toxic emissions, it’s vital that any fire is dealt with as quickly as possible. Immediately phone your local fire service if your battery is alight and ensure your workplace is evacuated until fire services get the situation under control.

However, if your battery is charging on a non-combustible surface, such as a steel shelf, there are no combustible materials that will add to the fire. Therefore, we strongly suggest creating procedures to prohibit staff charging lithium-ion batteries in anything but a dedicated charging area on a non-combustible (preferably sheet steel) surface.

2. Handle with Care

While this blog is focusing more on the safe storage of Li-ion cells, the handling of these batteries can contribute to the hazards that they create.

Batteries that are dropped, damaged or show signs of swelling should never be put back in your store or placed on charge. It’s the responsibility of every staff member to make sure that any suspicious batteries are taken out of storage and charging and disposed of in the correct way.

lithium ion battery for power drill on charge

Just because they're a common sight around the workplace, it doesn't mean that these batteries are without risks.

Don’t ever leave batteries lying around on work benches or out in the sun. These cells require special conditions for handling and storage if you are to reduce the likelihood of hazards.

Choosing dedicated battery storage is a key consideration, however, if your staff aren’t properly trained on how to operate the storage or handle the batteries, hazards can still be created.

For example, a staff member notices that a battery has been dented and damaged. However, they fail to alert their supervisor and seek advice on the situation. The staff member returns the damaged battery to the battery store. This action could potentially create an incident of thermal runaway occurring in the cell when it’s put on charge. This would then overheat the surrounding batteries, causing a more severe and challenging lithium-ion battery fire.

REMEMBER: Lithium-ion battery fires can create harm for people, property and the environment. These fires are notoriously difficult for fire crews to contain and can quickly engulf businesses, surrounding buildings and the natural environment.

3. Keep Battery Stores Ventilated

Lithium-ion batteries should be kept in well-ventilated areas. These types of cells do not react well with excessive heat or humidity. Therefore, keeping your stores ventilated through natural or mechanical means is necessary for the safe storage of your battery cells.

Larger stores, such as battery energy storage systems, should be separated from public and protected places to reduce the risk of fire impacting surrounding buildings and communities.

STOREMASTA Battery charging cabinet white side on viewYour battery store should provide a cool, dry and well-ventilated area for the short- and long-term storage of your battery cells.

4. Avoid Excessive Temperatures

Your batteries must be stored in moderate conditions as they are known for their sensitivity to extreme heat and extreme cold.

Choose a well-ventilated store that is away from direct sunlight, and not in the vicinity of hot surfaces, mechanical equipment, open flames or other ignition sources.

5. Leak Containment

While lithium-ion batteries aren’t generally prone to leaks, it’s still a good idea to ensure that any leaks of electrolyte are contained. Damaged or split batteries are a serious hazard, but the electrolyte can also be released, causing a greater fire hazard. Spill containment solutions for battery stores can include bunded battery cabinets or drip trays placed under perforated battery store shelving.

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6. Charge Batteries with the Correct Charger

Unlike the disposable lithium batteries, lithium-ion batteries are made to be recharged. However, charging can spark serious incidents such as thermal runaway and fire if there’s an issue with the battery or overcharging.

The simplest way that you can reduce hazards in your lithium-ion battery stores is by always using a certified charger that is suitable for the battery product that you have onsite. Choose a charger that is suitable for your particular battery type and capacity of charge. As lithium batteries can’t absorb extra charging, overcharging must be avoided. The easiest way to do this is simply unplug your charger once the battery’s charged to about 80 – 100%.

7. Don’t Overcharge

This brings us to our next point: overcharging.

Avoiding overcharged your Li-ion batteries is an easy step that you can take to reduce the likelihood of hazards occurring in your stores.

Lithium-ion batteries should be charged in a methodical manner, with staff avoiding overcharging and the deep discharging of cells. You can refer to the safety instructions from your battery manufacturer or supplier to learn more about issues with maximum current load, mechanical and thermal loads, and charging and end-point voltages.

lithium ion battery fire with phone on charge Don’t overcharge or overdischarge Li-on batteries in the workplace or at home.

8. Be Prepared for a Fire

If you’re storing any type of chemical product in your workplace, you would assume that you’d have the procedures and equipment in place to deal with a hazard, such as a fire.

However, many people don’t realise how dangerous lithium-ion batteries can be – until they are made aware of the risks through seeing a report on the news or hearing about an incident through a colleague.

Making sure your organisation is prepared for a fire is just as important as taking the time to ensure all your hazard controls are in place. In the event of a battery fire, your team must know exactly how to deal with the situation so there is minimal impact on your staff, business and community.

REMEMBER: Part of your emergency planning should be to properly train and educate your staff about who is responsible for the activation of emergency equipment in the event of a fire or other hazardous incident.

9. Use a Lithium-ion Battery Cabinet

Does your workplace have dedicated storage for your batteries? Or are they just kept in random cupboards around the worksite? Perhaps you don’t have storage for your batteries at all?

Whatever the case, you may like to consider the benefits of choosing a purpose-built lithium-ion battery storage cabinet.

These cabinets are designed and constructed specifically to reduce the risks associated with this energy source.

They can assist with reducing hazards such as overheating, spills and charging on unsafe surfaces.

10. Train Your Team

While you can have all the storage and handling procedures down pat, there’s no point if your staff aren’t all properly trained in these safety procedures.

Raise awareness in your organisation about the correct handling, usage, storage and charging of these batteries so you can prevent catastrophic situations that are increasingly appearing in news streams.

Standard operating procedures, based on best practice and the battery manufacturer’s instructions, should be implemented for all staff who are using lithium-ion batteries.

Make sure your stores are installed, used and maintained in a similar way to your chemical stores. That is, conducting a risk assessment at your site and determining the potential hazards that are present, as well as the controls necessary for your stores to remain safe. These controls will include administrative controls, including your standard operating procedures and emergency plans.

Safer Lithium-ion Battery Storage

With more and more workplaces utilising this technology, it’s vital that your team get on board with actively reducing the risk of Li-ion fires and thermal runaway. As we’ve mentioned in our post, choosing purpose-built storage — such as our battery charging and storage cabinet — is one key way to minimise hazards. It also assists in encouraging better work practices as your team will understand the importance of safe battery charging and storage. Like to know more? Then you can find out more about lithium-ion batteries and their risks by accessing our free eBook today. Just click on the image below to grab your own copy.

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