ACCC heats up the conversation on lithium-ion battery safety

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) is calling for better data and information sharing to manage the safety risks around lithium-ion batteries.

In a report released yesterday, the ACCC says that “while Li-ion [lithium-ion] battery incidents are limited in comparison to the number of Li-ion battery products, they are increasing, both in Australia and globally”.

Since 2017, the ACCC has been notified of 23 product recalls from suppliers related to lithium-ion battery risk.

“Consumers should keep lithium-ion batteries out of household rubbish and check and for information about safe disposal,” says Catriona Lowe, deputy chair of the ACCC.

From the cool new cars on sale to (probably) the device you’re reading this article on, lithium-ion batteries now power a large chunk of modern life.

As the lightest metal, lithium will always be the most straightforward way to make a powerful rechargeable battery. But it’s also a very reactive substance, and faulty batteries can start very hot fires that are difficult to put out.

Because of strict regulations, electric vehicle fire risks are very low, with no spontaneous vehicle fires yet recorded in Australia. But other lithium-ion battery devices are less well-regulated. The report highlights 3 incidents of e-bikes and e-scooters exploding and causing very damaging fires in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney homes.

Disposal of lithium-ion batteries can also be hazardous if not done correctly. Lithium batteries were the cause of a fire that destroyed Canberra’s recycling plant on Boxing Day 2022, according to ACT Fire & Rescue.

One Australian has died from a lithium-ion battery fire, according to the ACCC.

According to the report, there isn’t sufficient data being collected consistently on lithium-ion battery device risks. The report has 6 recommendations:

  • Healthcare organisations, coroners and fire authorities should standardise and collect data on lithium-ion battery incidents, fires and injuries, and make it easily accessible in databases
  • Consumers should have clear, accessible information on how to safely choose, use, store and dispose of lithium-ion batteries, and identify risks
  • The federal government should keep developing ways to deal with batteries at end-of-life
  • State and territory governments should build consistent frameworks for regulating batteries in things like product recalls and incident reports
  • State and territory regulators should introduce and enforce requirements for testing, labelling, transport and storage of lithium-ion batteries
  • Federal, state and territory regulators should work with online platforms to manage the online sale of lithium-ion batteries

“We recommend that government and industry continue to develop solutions to ensure lithium-ion batteries are safely designed and can be sustainably disposed,” says Lowe.

“Managing lithium-ion battery safety is complex, and government, industry and consumers must tackle the challenge together. Our report makes recommendations to better protect consumers, and includes practical advice to reduce the risks associated with these batteries.

“Consumers should avoid mixing and matching chargers, unplug products when fully charged and charge batteries in a cool, dry place and away from combustible materials like beds, lounges or carpet.

“Check your lithium-ion batteries for overheating signs of swelling, leaking or venting gas and immediately stop using your product if these signs are present.

“We recommend that government and industry continue to develop solutions to ensure lithium-ion batteries are safely designed and can be sustainably disposed.”

Please login to favourite this article.