Lithium Batteries Causing Fires: Strata Management Awareness

Posted: March 21, 2024Categories: ,

In recent times, there has been a surge in incidents related to fires caused by lithium-ion batteries. As of 2023, there have been over 269 reported cases, resulting in 38 injuries, with Fire and Rescue NSW identifying this as “the fastest growing fire risk in New South Wales”.

Lithium-ion batteries pose significant dangers when they undergo “thermal runaway”, a phenomenon where the battery overheats due to internal issues, triggering a chemical reaction that escalates the temperature uncontrollably. This reaction not only intensifies the fire but also makes it difficult to extinguish, increasing the risk of re-ignition.

 

The implications of thermal runaway, as highlighted by Fire and Rescue NSW, are grave:

  • Increased fire intensity with violent ejection of materials.
  • Exposure to toxic gases and fire effluents.
  • Higher risk of explosion in confined spaces.
  • Stranded electrical energy from energized battery cells.
  • Prolonged processes for extinguishing and cooling.
  • Risk of secondary ignitions.
  • Challenges in rendering the site safe and containing contaminated water.
  • Difficulties in handling, transporting, and disposing of affected batteries.
  • Recent incidents in multi-dwelling buildings serve as stark reminders of these risks.

 

Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly common in strata schemes, found in various items such as e-bikes, electric scooters, mobile phones, and power tools. The issue extends to electric vehicles and charging stations, evident from incidents like an EV charging station fire in Berkeley and a ship fire attributed to an electric Porsche.

 

Given their prevalence, this presents a significant concern for strata schemes, impacting insurance coverage and necessitating regulatory measures:

  • Insurers are assessing the implications on coverage, akin to the cladding issue.
  • Strata insurers may require disclosure of lithium-ion battery possession.
  • After an event, expect insurance increases or exclusions in the short term.
  • Owners Corporation cannot recover premium increases unless associated with a change of use.
  • Regulation can be through general rules by-laws, focusing on safety recommendations from Fire and Rescue NSW.
  • Considerations for safe disposal and recycling of batteries to prevent environmental hazards.

 

Navigating these complexities requires careful consideration and specialist advice, both of which our team can assist you with, guiding you through the process and engaging expert advice when necessary.

Safeguarding our community against the dangers posed by lithium-ion batteries requires proactive measures and collective action. Let us work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all residents.