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EV Hazards: How to Assess the Risk of Battery Fire Outside a Vehicle

Toby Graham /

Assessing high-voltage lithium-ion EV batteries isn’t the easiest task, but we’re here to break it down for you. Last week, we talked about the process for assessing batteries that are still inside a vehicle. Now, we’ll turn our focus to ones that are outside a vehicle. Combined with the basic anatomy of how a battery is constructed, you should be smarter about keeping your facility safe while working with electric vehicles. 

Inspecting a Battery Outside a Vehicle 

Sometimes you’ll need to assess a battery that is outside of a vehicle. It could be a new battery you’re getting ready to install, or a battery that the service department has removed and must now be packaged for shipping. Either way, you’ll need to perform the proper assessments before installing or packaging it.

Follow the steps we’ve outlined below to assess whether a battery inside a vehicle is a critical risk, a high risk, or an average risk. 

And, of course, follow your dealership’s standard operating protocols for handling critical-risk and high-risk EV batteries. 

Critical Risk

Confirm that there is no critical risk to the battery before performing a more detailed assessment.

  1. Is the battery emitting smoke or flames?
  2. Are there visible sparks or arcing coming from the battery or other components?
  3. Are you able to get a voltage reading from non-energized parts of the vehicle?

The answer to all of those questions should be a definitive, “No.”

Any “yes” answer is an indicator that the battery is a critical risk. If it is not, move on to the assessment of thermal codes, loss of isolation, and physical damage to determine if the battery is high risk or average risk.

Physical Damage

The casing for high-voltage batteries is designed to protect the fragile and volatile internal components, but it’s not foolproof. It’s best to conduct a visual assessment.

  1. Is there evidence of prior fire?
  2. Is there evidence of rupture, puncture, or high impact?
  3. Is there evidence of incorrect disassembly or assembly?
  4. Is there evidence of leakage, either electrolyte or coolant?
  5. Is there evidence of damage to high-voltage components around the battery?
  6. Is there evidence of damage to the vehicle near the battery?
  7. Is there evidence of a collision that could have impacted the battery or its components?
  8. Is there evidence of environmental damage (e.g., water, soil, flora)?

A “yes” answer means the battery is considered high risk.

Thermal Stability

Batteries outside a vehicle are not exposed to heat generated through operation, so any signs of continuing heat generation are warning signs that the battery may be unstable.

How to Test for Thermal Stability

Use an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature along four parallel and equally spaced lines along the long edge of the battery.

Place the thermometer 12 to 18 inches away from the battery when taking a reading.

Record the highest temperature along each parallel line.

Take a second set of readings one hour later.

The battery is considered high risk if:

  • The temperature remains above ambient temperature across both readings; and/or
  • The temperature increases from the first reading to the second.

Stay on top of EV requirements with KPA, the nation’s leader in automotive compliance solutions.

KPA has an EV compliance solution designed to help you prepare your facility, educate your staff, and document/maintain OSHA compliance.

In addition to addressing general awareness about EVs, KPA is developing a monthly series of self-directed training programs for supervisors to train their staff. Topics will range from EV battery hazards, including fire risks and proper storage, electrical hazards, personal protective equipment, de-energization, stranded energy, and more. These tools, along with on-site consulting and additional EV compliance content, will comprise KPA’s comprehensive EV Compliance Solution, available this fall.

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