By Grainger Editorial Staff 9/22/23
While electric vehicles (EVs) were first introduced over 100 years ago, they are now gaining popularity worldwide. In 2022, electric car sales topped 10 million worldwide and were projected to grow to 14 million in 2023. As production rapidly increases, workers are learning to adapt to new safety concerns and challenges that require attention and proactive measures.
Grainger Field Safety Specialists Ronald Myers and Connie Krier outlined some tips for working safely with EVs. As certified safety specialists with more than 55 years combined experience, they highlighted the main hazards associated with EVs, like the risk of electric shock when dealing with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries reaching up to 800 volts, and the potential hazards and concerns related to storage, fire and first-aid.
Learn more about the existing EV regulations, training options, equipment choices and best practices for guarding against these emerging hazards.
Before working with EVs, conducting a thorough risk assessment is crucial. Identify and analyze hazards, document potential risks and determine protective measures during the risk assessment. Customizing risk assessments is essential to ensuring worker safety since EV-related jobs may vary significantly.
Common EV hazards and procedures to consider when developing a safety program:
While some general electrical safety standards apply, Myers and Krier said there is a lack of comprehensive, dedicated regulations for EVs. As specific EV safety standards and regulations continue to advance, existing guidelines from OSHA 29 CFR 1910 Subpart S and 29 CFR 1910. 306(h), along with the National Electric Code NFPA 70E, play a crucial role. Compliance with relevant standards like the NFPA 70E, ASTM requirements, UL 2054 and 1642, and IEEE 1679 are critical for ensuring safety.
Some states have adopted or created regulations and policies around EV battery storage within their fire codes, so it's important to understand your state and local requirements. Although current regulations don’t fully cover EVs, it’s important to understand the authority having jurisdiction and follow existing protocols to stay updated on emerging regulations.
Selecting the appropriate PPE for working with EVs depends on a proper hazard assessment and following NFPA 70E guidelines. PPE requirements can differ based on the hazard exposure and authority having jurisdiction.
PPE requirements can include:
Proper storage of EV batteries is crucial. According to OSHA, lithium-ion batteries can become damaged from physical impact, improper charging or when temperatures are too high (above 130°F) or below freezing (32°F). Be sure to label batteries appropriately and store them in designated areas, ensuring separation by distance or a fire-rated wall.
For example, the California fire code limits storage to 20 kilowatts or 15 cubic foot area, with some specific exemptions. Damaged batteries require special storage, and workers should be aware of specific requirements for each type of battery. Myers and Krier recommended keeping new batteries in the original packaging on the floor and putting any batteries being serviced on a movable cart with a fire blanket so they can be quickly transported out in the event of a fire.
It’s also important to consider where EV vehicles are stored for charging so that if a fire breaks out, the EV vehicles can be quickly moved away from other vehicles. Once an EV battery fire starts, the key is containment to prevent the fire from spreading. Myers and Krier noted fire departments have expressed concern over the practice of keeping charging banks of EV vehicles inside with other vehicles close by with no way of moving EV vehicles safely outside.
Fire blankets and fire extinguishers can help contain EV battery fires but remember that these batteries require special handling since EV fires are anaerobic fires—they do not require oxygen to burn. The key to dealing with EV battery fires is containment and prevention of the fire spreading. Ensure fire blankets and extinguishers are rated appropriately. Respiratory protection and training should be available due to the toxic smoke from an EV battery fire. During flooding and other natural disasters, EVs can present unique challenges and fire risks due to the bridging of the cells when flooded with salt water. Plan accordingly and be sure to follow original equipment manufacturer guidelines. Ask the manufacturer if they offer hands-on safety training and inform your local fire department of EV storage and emergency planning procedures.
Myers and Krier noted many businesses are struggling to understand EV safety since the hazards and regulatory environment keep changing. Often, regulations are only created after incidents, injuries or fatalities occur. They emphasized the importance of creating a comprehensive handbook tailored to EV safety practices and protocols. Currently, companies are using several sources to develop protocols, causing potential gaps and misunderstandings.
Standard electrical safety training is beneficial, but it’s important to follow specialized protocols to help manage the risks associated with electrical-powered equipment. Emergency procedures and first responders need specific training and equipment to effectively handle and control lithium-ion battery fires, which differ from typical combustible fires. Myers and Krier recommended professionals stay informed about evolving safety standards and regulations, conduct thorough hazard assessments and provide adequate PPE and training to help ensure a safe working environment.
For more tools and training for working with EVs, visit Grainger Safety Services.
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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.