AXA UK issues fire risk warning over lithium batteries in e-bikes
23 August 2022
INSURER AXA UK has warned of the growing fire risks associated with the lithium-ion batteries used in electric bikes and scooters. Lithium-ion batteries pose a significant fire risk when damaged, over-charged or otherwise exposed to extreme temperatures. Across the past two months, AXA UK has covered almost half a million pounds’ worth of losses on two large claims caused by lithium battery fires.
It’s expected that both the frequency and cost of these fires are likely to grow exponentially as transport via e-bikes and e-scooters becomes more popular. AXA UK’s claims data shows that these fires most frequently occur within residential buildings where the associated damage can be devastating.
One of the recent large claims was the result of a faulty e-scooter battery, which was being charged in the kitchen of a ground floor terrace flat. An explosion occurred and fire spread through the home, reaching two storeys above.
The second occurred in a block of flats where an e-bike battery was being charged. The fire totally destroyed the flat and caused smoke damage to the flats on either side. Thankfully, nobody was injured in either incident.
Reducing the risk
To reduce the risk of lithium battery fires, AXA UK recommends the following precautionary steps are taken:
*Never leave batteries charging in a building that’s unattended or overnight when people are asleep in the property
*Unplug or disconnect from the battery once charging is complete
*Do not allow the battery to overheat and ensure that it’s charged on a hard surface where heat can disperse
*Monitor and assess for damage to the battery and the charger and always follow the manufacturer’s guidance for replacement or repairs
*Ensure smoke alarms – preferably interlinked detectors located around the property – are fitted where charging is taking place and, if possible, store and charge away from the main living area
As well as the increasing danger of fire in residential properties, AXA UK is also alerting those responsible for commercial businesses (such as Shopping Centres, retailers and e-bike and scooter storage and repair facilities) about the risks posed by these batteries. Businesses must ensure they have put in place reasonable precautions, reviewed and updated existing fire risk assessments and purchased specific fire extinguishers designed for use on fires involving lithium batteries.
Dougie Barnett, director of customer risk management for AXA UK’s commercial insurance operation, informed Fire Safety Matters: “Fire safety should be the foremost priority when it comes to charging and storing electric bikes and scooters. These forms of transport are becoming increasingly common due to the range of benefits they provide. However, this truism makes it even more essential that people understand the risks around storing them in the wrong way or using damaged batteries.”
Barnett added: “As an insurer, we’re there for individuals when the worst happens, but we want to make sure such risks are managed and reduced so that they can avoid the very often devastating consequences of a fire in their homes or within their business.”
A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade commented: “It’s incredibly concerning that we’re continuing to witness a rise in incidents involving e-bikes and e-scooters. When lithium-ion batteries and their chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and, due to the fact that the resultant fires develop so rapidly, the situation can quickly become one that’s incredibly serious in nature.”
The spokesperson added: “Our advice is to try and store and charge e-bikes and e-scooters in a safe location if possible, such as in a shed or a garage. If they have to be stored inside, make sure there’s smoke detection fitted and that the means of escape is not obstructed in any way. We know this will not be possible for everyone, so if charging is being carried out indoors, then safe charging must be the way forward, while everyone in the property should know what to do in the event of a fire.”