Batteries doing more than charging – lithium batteries lighting up!

Fires ignited by charging lithium-ion batteries in apartments have been prevalent in the media. Some apartment owners are looking to limit or even ban electric bikes and scooters and charging their batteries in the building.

On 4 October 2023, one person was injured and 70 people were evacuated from a Kings Cross Hostel when an e-bike battery exploded while being charged indoors. However, it is not just the risk associated with charging electric vehicle batteries we need to be aware of in strata.

In February 2024, NSW had its first recorded deaths, when two people tragically died in a townhouse blaze in Teralba, caused by a malfunctioning lithium-ion battery.

Lithium-ion batteries power numerous personal and household devices, like mobile phones, iPads, tablets, portable chargers, electric toothbrushes, power tools, lawn mowers, portable and robot vacuum cleaners…to name just a handful.

Common household products containing Li-ion batteries

An Insurance News article quoted that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) predicts that by 2026 households will have on average 33 devices powered by such batteries1.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald2 stated that while the proportion of these batteries combusting is relatively small, they can cause a lot of damage, especially when the battery explodes indoors. Over the past year, they’ve caused more than 1,000 fires around Australia.

Fires involving lithium-ion batteries are usually not due to manufacturing defects but are linked to:

  • User error
  • Mechanical damage
  • Inappropriate charging behaviour
  • Modifications to batteries
  • Second hand or non-genuine parts

While lithium-ion batteries are not always the cause of a fire, they will add fuel to the fire if present. These fires are intense and volatile, making it very difficult to extinguish.

To reduce the risk of combustion of lithium-ion batteries, fire agencies recommend:

  • Buy devices with batteries that meet Australian Standards for vehicle and product safety
  • Only buy from reputable sellers and suppliers
  • Only use chargers and cables that come with the device
  • Don’t leave devices charging overnight or longer than the maximum time stated in the product manual
  • Don’t charge near doorways, where a fire would block your exit
  • Charge only on hard, non-combustible surfaces
  • Charge large battery devices in open areas designated for charging, and not in living areas
  • Don’t tamper with battery-powered devices
  • Don’t leave devices in the sun
  • Never use a device if the battery is swelling, bulging, leaking, damaged or overheating
  • Never put batteries in the rubbish

ACCC October 2023 report

In response to the number of battery related fires, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its first report in October 2023 on lithium-ion batteries and consumer product safety3.

The report recommended educating consumers about the safety risks associated with lithium-ion batteries and safe use strategies. In addition to education, it was recommended that standards for storage, transportation, labelling and testing of lithium-ion batteries be established and addressing the sale of unsafe products.

Other suggestions to manage the lithium-ion fire risk include:

  • Agree and execute a program for regular fire safety checks and maintenance of fire extinguishers, sprinklers, smoke alarms and fire doors
  • Implement evacuation plans and drills for multi-storey residential strata
  • Designate safe charging areas for scooters and e-bikes
  • Educate strata owners and residents with fact sheets and other resources
  • Consider by-laws restricting the type and make of electric bikes and scooters to those that meet Australian Standards for vehicle and product safety

The strata response

The fire safety requirements for strata properties vary slightly across the states and territories. The strata committee – with the help of their strata manager – should be aware of their local requirements.

Thankfully, strata properties have the added safety of mandatory smoke alarms in common areas and within the lot where smaller devices may be charged.

The most important thing in the event of a fire is that everyone gets out safely – owners and tenants should be made aware of the fire evacuation plan.

Achieving the best Strata Insurance outcome

As a broker, Whitbread insurance specialists are here to help you manage this emerging trend in strata properties. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to know more about the insurance implications of lithium-ion batteries in apartments or to discuss a particular risk in greater detail.

T: 1300 424 627

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Important notice
This article provides information rather than financial product or other advice. The content of this article, including any information contained in it, has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider the appropriateness of the information, taking these matters into account, before you act on any information. In particular, you should review the product disclosure statement for any product that the information relates to it before acquiring the product.

Information is current as at the date the article is written as specified within it but is subject to change. Whitbread Insurance Brokers make no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Various third parties have contributed to the production of this content. All information is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of Whitbread Insurance Broker.

This article is not intended to be personal advice and you should not rely on it as a substitute for any form of personal advice. Please contact Whitbread Associates Pty Ltd ABN 69 005 490 228, License Number 229092 trading as Whitbread Insurance Brokers for further information or refer to our website.

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Batteries doing more than charging – lithium batteries lighting up!