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Fire, explosion, and contact with electricity in damaged electric vehicles

What is the potential risk?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are almost always powered by a lithium ion battery (typically ranging from 200 to 800 volts), which forms part of an EV’s electric propulsion system. There are four main types of EV: battery electric, plug‑in hybrid electric, hybrid electric, and fuel‑cell electric. A damaged battery can short‑circuit, catch fire, and explode. This type of fire can be difficult to extinguish because the damaged battery can reignite for a long time after the fire is first put out.

With a growing number of EVs on the road in B.C., there is greater potential for incidents to occur. Workers may handle damaged EV batteries and electrical system components in the course of the following activities:

  • Servicing, maintenance, or operation
  • Responding to motor vehicle incidents
  • Towing, recovery, or recycling

As well as potential incidents involving batteries, damage to electric propulsion systems can also energize an EV’s body, components, and surroundings. These risks can result in injuries to workers who come into contact with them.

Who is at risk?

Workers at risk include first responders, tow truck operators, auto repair technicians, and body shop personnel. Recycling facility staff, those involved with repurposing EV batteries, and claims adjusters may also be at risk. EV operators can potentially also be considered workers.

How can I reduce the risk in my workplace?

As an employer, you need to know if this risk may be present in your workplace. You must regularly inspect your workplace and ensure your safe work procedures and practices control the risk.

The following parts of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation contain information that is most relevant to this risk:

OHS Guidelines for each of these parts are also available.

Where can I find resources?

  • National Fire Protection Association’s Alternative Fuel Vehicles Safety Training program – the following resources are free to download (requires free registration on the website):
    • Emergency Field Guide
    • Emergency Response Guides
    • Submerged hybrid/electric vehicles bulletin

Learn more about managing risk in your workplace.

Publication Date: Dec 2020 Asset type: Risk Advisory Reference: RA 2020-06