You’ve probably seen a news story about an electric vehicle fire—they make good drama. Maybe it was about a driver escaping from a blazing inferno that started in the electric vehicle (EV) they were driving just moments before. Or maybe the story was about untold property damage caused by the random ignition of a parked EV. These sensational tales attract viewers, but the truth about EV fires is much less dramatic.
Let’s take a closer look at EV fire risks, severity, and the hazards associated with storing EV batteries onsite. And, read on to learn steps you can take to mitigate these risks.
EV Fire Risks in Perspective
First, let’s test your knowledge about the fire risk for:
- Internal combustion engines (ICE),
- Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and
- Battery electric vehicles (BEV).
Here are the stats:
According to data collected by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and analyzed by AutoinsuranceEZ, there were:
- 25.1 fires for every 100,000 BEVs sold. That’s a rate of 0.03%.
- 1,500 fires for every 100,000 ICE vehicles sold. That’s a rate of 1.5%.
- 3,500 fires for every 100,000 HEVs sold. That’s a rate of 3.5%.
To put it into perspective, there were 140 HEV fires and 60 ICE fires for every one BEV fire!
But BEVs aren’t exactly risk-free. We have to consider the severity of the fires as well.
ICE vehicles store gasoline or diesel fuel in the fuel tank, fuel lines, and fuel pumping system. ICE fuel fires are usually easily accessible; a person can extinguish a minor fire with an ABC fire extinguisher—the most common type.
EV batteries, on the other hand, are not easily accessible. A fire-resistant and puncture-resistant casing protects the battery from damage. It also prevents access to a battery fire, which means BEV fires tend to be more difficult to extinguish. You’ll need to prepare accordingly.
5 Tips for Reducing EV Fire Hazards
Here are some tips for protecting your property and employees from EV fire hazards.
1. ID and Label Damaged Vehicles
Identify and clearly label vehicles that have been damaged in a collision—even those that could have been damaged. Employees need to know that those vehicles are a potential hazard so they can take the proper precautions.
2. Park Damaged EVs in a Safe Zone
Store damaged and at-risk vehicles in such a way as to prevent property damage should the vehicle catch fire. If possible, move EVs you’ve been working on to the storage area at the end of each work day. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommend storing damaged lithium-ion batteries in a safe zone at least 50 feet away from buildings and other combustible material.
3. Designate EV Work Areas
Designate work bays that are dedicated to EVs. That way, employees who are trained to work on EVs can work in the same area and protect themselves against EV-specific hazards. Employees who are not trained to work on EVs should not enter those bays or expose themselves to EV hazards.
4. Create an EV Fire-Response Plan
You likely have a written Emergency Response Plan, but you also need a facility-specific response plan for EV fires. Things to cover include answers to these questions:
- What should employees do when an EV catches fire?
- Do responders need to wear special personal protective equipment (PPE)?
- Where on your property is it safe to store a damaged EV?
- How close can other cars be to an EV?
5. Conduct Regular Inspections
Regularly inspect electric vehicles and their batteries. Inspection improves the chance of an employee diagnosing a battery fault or failure before it leads to a more serious event, such as a fire.
Storing EV Batteries: 3 Tips for Reducing Hazards
We talked about EV fire mitigation, but now we need to consider the hazards associated with storing EV batteries separate from vehicles. There are times when you’ll need to swap out an EV battery. And you’ll need to store the old one until you can properly dispose of it. This could be an end-of-life (EOL) battery, meaning it no longer holds a viable charge. Or it could be a damaged, defective, or recalled (DDR) battery. Here are some tips for manage battery storage risks.
1. Use Proper Storage Containers
You need to properly contain old batteries until they leave the facility. Sometimes you can store a used battery in the shipping container it arrived in, but not always. Contact the battery supplier to determine if the shipping container is the proper packaging for storage, especially if you will be storing the battery onsite for a longer period, such as during a recall.
2. Maintain Proper Clearance
You need to protect stored electric vehicle batteries from a wide variety of hazards that are part of everyday operations in a service department. Most battery manufacturers recommend 10 feet of clearance around stored batteries for anything that could harm the battery, including:
- Chemicals—consider potential reactions between the battery casing and fumes, electrolytes, or coolant
- Electrical sources and electrical panels—the battery should not be at risk of being subjected to a high-voltage jolt
- Water—consider how close the battery is to car washing or detailing, and whether it might be subjected to rain or snow
- Employee operations—only those trained on working with high-voltage batteries should work near EV battery storage
- Traffic—avoid high-vehicle-traffic areas and forklift operations
3. Designate a Storage Building
The best practice is to designate a storage building or shed with a roof and walls for battery storage, which keeps exposure to a minimum. Locate the building away from other structures and property when possible. Install a wide door to allow for forklift access and maneuverability.
Now that you understand the hazards associated with high-voltage EVs and their batteries, take the steps necessary to protect your employees and facilities. Check with your local fire marshal to be sure you’ve adequately mitigated the risks. Finally, add new risk-mitigation information to your safety manual and Emergency Response Plan.