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Batteries (EV)

Electric vehicles (EVs) have high-voltage electrical systems consisting of capacitors, cables, and lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries. EV batteries typically range from 200 to 800 volts. Workers can be injured by contact with the electricity from compromised lithium-ion batteries.

Damaged high-voltage electrical systems can also energize other components of an electric vehicle, posing a risk to workers of electric shock, electrical burns, or even electrocution. A damaged high-voltage battery can short circuit, catch fire, and explode. This type of fire can be difficult to extinguish, and the damaged battery can reignite a long time after the fire is initially put out. Whether they burn and create fumes, or crack and leak, damaged batteries release toxic substances.

How workers are exposed

Any worker exposed to a damaged EV is at risk. Such workers include:

  • First responders
  • Tow truck drivers
  • Auto repair technicians
  • Body shop personnel
  • Recycling facility staff
  • Insurance damage estimators
  • Vehicle operators and passengers

These workers may come into contact with high-voltage components or batteries at the scene of motor vehicle incidents or during repair work. They can be at risk during any stage of a recovery/repair process: compromised EV batteries can short circuit, catch fire, and explode even when idle in storage. And at any time, workers can also be exposed to the toxic substances released from EV batteries burning or leaking.

The risks

Damaged EV batteries are hazardous in three main ways. Each poses different risks to workers.

Uncontrolled release of energy
  • Damaged high-voltage electrical systems can energize other components of an electric vehicle, posing a risk of electric shock, or even electrocution, and electrical burns.
Fire and explosion
  • Damaged batteries can short-circuit and catch fire, and even explode. Li-ion batteries burn hotter and faster than other fuel sources and can reignite after the fire is extinguished. Electrolyte leaked from these batteries is also flammable.
Fumes or leaks of toxic substances
  • Fumes from burning li-ion battery (containing, for example, CO2, CO, NO, NO2, HCl, HCN, hydrocarbons, and HF) may cause irritation, illness, or death.
  • Skin contact with leaked electrolytes and HF can cause irritation or burns.

How to reduce the risks

The most effective way to manage the risk associated with compromised lithium batteries is to eliminate the source of exposure. If that's not possible, other risk controls must be used.

When choosing risk controls, start by asking yourself the questions in the following steps, listed in order of effectiveness. See resource links at the bottom of this page for more information.

  1. 1

    Elimination or substitution

    Eliminating the hazard by removing the damaged electric vehicle from the worksite:

    • Does the hazardous item have to be stored onsite?
  2. 2

    Engineering controls

    Making physical modifications to facilities, equipment, and processes can reduce exposure. Some questions to consider:

    • Is there a process which reduces the likelihood of workers contacting energized systems or components and being exposed to toxic substances?
    • Is there a location onsite where maximum separation from other combustible material is available?
    • Can adequate barriers be installed to prevent the spread of fire?
    • Has the appropriate fire detection and prevention equipment been installed?
  3. 3

    Administrative controls

    These involve changing work practices and work policies. Providing awareness tools and training also count as administrative controls. All can reduce the risk of injury from damaged EVs. Some questions to consider:

    • Have safe work practices been developed?
    • Have workers been trained on the safe work practices?
    • Can warning signs be posted in the work area?
    • Are the safe work practices documented and the procedures posted?
  4. 4

    Personal protective equipment

    This is the least effective control. When used, there must always be at least one other control in place as well. Some questions to consider:

    • Do workers have the proper respirators, eye wear, and protective clothing?
    • Has personal protective equipment been tested to make sure it is working properly?