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Government action urged as new figures show surge in lithium-ion battery fires

The British Metals Recycling Association is urging the government to lead a new campaign to highlight the dangers of fires from exploding lithium-ion batteries, saying the problem has been “ignored for too long”.

The warning comes as new figures show that the number of fires caused by exploding lithium-ion batteries in e-scooters and e-bikes soared by almost 150% in 2021, according to data obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request by insurance company Zurich. The number of such fires to the end of September 2022 shows a further increase of 28% on 2021’s monthly average figure.

In London alone, firefighters attended 88 fires caused by e-bikes in 2022 – an increase of 80% on the 49 responded to in 2021. Many of the fires have been attributed to e-bike conversion kits, which can be used to convert a standard push bike into an electric bike.

“These figures underline the need, once again, for more education and communication about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries found in rechargeable items, including e-bikes and e-scooters,” said James Kelly, the CEO of BMRA. “This is a growing problem, which is putting the safety of members of the public and those working right across the recycling sector at risk. For too long it has been ignored, which is why the BMRA is now calling for a government supported campaign to better inform the public of the hazards, both for safe use and disposal of lithium-ion batteries.”

London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “There is a significant risk posed by the e-bikes which have been converted, and we are predominantly seeing fires in ones which have been purchased from online marketplaces and batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.

“When these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and because the fires develop so rapidly, the situation can quickly become incredibly serious. These items are often stored in communal areas and corridors, and can block people’s only means of escape.”

E-bike and e-scooter warnings

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has also recently warned retailers and the public to avoid non-compliant devices. It is urging the public to:

  • Only purchase e-bikes, e-scooters, chargers and batteries from reputable retailers.

  • Never buy counterfeit batteries or chargers, and ensure that any device you use displays a valid UKCA or CE mark.

  • Check that separate components, such as batteries and chargers, are compatible with one another.

  • Register your product with the manufacturer to validate any warranties on components including batteries. Registering makes it easier for manufacturers to contact you in the event of safety or recall information.

  • Check any products you have bought are not subject to a product recall. You can do this by checking Electrical Safety First’s website or the government website.

“For importers and retailers, getting this wrong could cost you an absolute fortune,” said Alonso Ercilla, Trading Standards Manager at the London Borough of Islington. “Trading Standards can seize non-compliant devices and gain a forfeiture order, so that we can safely dispose of them. We advise anyone selling these devices to get them tested to make sure they comply with product safety laws. When things go wrong, there are consequences.

Businesses can be prosecuted and the public can be exposed to great risk of harm.”

Ifsec Global March 2023


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