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Lithium Battery Safety.

Battery technology has come a long way, with batteries of all kinds now providing primary and secondary power for our stationary and portable electronics, automobiles, tools, solar photovoltaic systems, and more. Among them, lithium batteries have become increasingly used for these applications. Do your employees handle and ship lithium batteries? If so, be certain to know what safety compliance requirements apply.

There are multitudes of battery types and classifications, with sizing ranging from small residential to large commercial/industrial applications, including

  • Lead Acid, such as Flooded, Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries, which have been used for decades mostly in non-portable deep cycle industrial applications such as telecom, data center and solar photovoltaic use where large capacity reserve power is required. They are also a popular choice for starting vehicles and equipment.
  • Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries, which are typically a more advanced version of SLA batteries.
  • Nickel Cadmium and Metal Hydride batteries which can be used in small electronic devices up to larger commercial/industrial starting and stand-by power applications.

Batteries use a wide range of metals such as cadmium, magnesium, nickel, and zinc combined with chemical compounds such as alkaline, sulfuric acid, lithium, and gel-electrolyte. They also operate on a wide range of positive and negative voltages specific to their application. 

Lithium batteries, which have become widely used, especially due to their storage and recharge capacity in portable devices like cell phones, laptops, and tablets, fall into one of two basic categories: lithium metal including lithium alloy (primary lithium batteries); and lithium ion, including lithium ion polymer (secondary lithium batteries).

  • Lithium metal (primary) batteries contain a low amount of metallic lithium or a lithium alloy. Batteries of this type are non-rechargeable.
  • Lithium ion (secondary) batteries do not contain any metallic lithium; rather a lithium compound and are rechargeable.

 Like all batteries, lithium batteries pose specific hazards, such as electrical from overheating and arcing, causing fires and explosions, as well as chemical hazards which can result in burns, blindness, and respiratory hazards to employees. This is not only of concern to those who handle and package batteries, but also for ground, marine and air shipment carriers.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations do not address batteries in detail, mainly mentioning them in 29 CFR 1910. 306(h) Electrical, 29 CFR 1910.268(b)(2) for Telecom applications and 29 CFR 1926.441 for Powered Industrial Truck applications, as well as sprinkled throughout a few other areas of their standards.

OSHA recently published an informational safety bulletin on small and wearable lithium battery powered devices that contains useful information and references.

The Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a division of the Department of Transportation (DOT), regulates shipping requirements for hazardous materials. Here is a helpful link to 49 CFR 173.185 Lithium cells and batteries. This is a must read for any employer who handles, ships, recycles, and disposes of lithium batteries, so be certain to follow these important regulations carefully.

When it comes to battery safety, manufacturer recommendations and specifications should always be followed, with strong reference to the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the specific battery. The SDS will contain 16 categories of information on the battery, including:

  • Hazard identification
  • First aid, fire-fighting and accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure control and personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological and ecological information
  • Disposal and transport information
  • Regulatory information

Employees should receive training in each of these areas. For full SDS reference, see this OSHA link: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.1200AppD

An employer training program on battery safety should include, consider and encompass information in accordance with the following:

 Finally, and for additional safety guidance and other useful information regarding lithium batteries, employers should reference applicable standards and publications from:

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)- IEEE 1679
  • Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL)- UL 1642- Safety of Lithium Ion Batteries
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)- Lithium ion batteries hazard and use assessment

You can register for DOT Hazardous Materials Transportation Training with NET and complete the course online, at your convenience. Get in touch with us if you have questions about requirements or group registration.

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