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Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
June 29, 2023


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Lithium-ion battery fires

The hazards of Lithium-ion batteries on construction sites

Speaking at the High Rise Construction Fire Safety Conference held alongside FIREX in London last month, Matthew Pearce and Andy Lack from Skanska outlined the hazards of Lithium-ion batteries on construction sites.

ConstructionSite-London-UnsplashThere has been a “huge increase” in the use of Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries on construction sites, the speakers said.

The batteries come in all shapes and sizes and are used in a range of equipment, such as drills, dumpers and excavators. However, in the construction industry there is still “some way to go” to understand their safe operation, storage and maintenance.

Industry guidance has recognised the risk of Li-ion batteries, and there are new provisions on them in both Fire Safety in Construction (HSG 68) and the Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation.

Construction sites are not ideal environments for Li-ion batteries, being hot and dusty. Fires caused by these types of batteries are becoming more frequent in the construction and waste industries, with 46% of fires in the waste industry attributed to them.

There can be several hundred to a thousand Li-ion batteries on site, not to mention e-bikes and scooters.

Dangers of thermal runaway

Li-ion batteries produce a self-oxidising chain-reacting fire, and often can’t be extinguished. They cause a process which is known as thermal runaway – a chemical process that rapidly produces heat and gas, and occurs before flames are visible. Gases vent from the battery as a vapour cloud, exposure to which is very harmful.

Thermal runaway can be caused by:

  • Crushing
  • Penetration
  • Overcharging
  • Overheating
  • Short Circuit

The process leads to smoke, fire and explosion.

In April 2022, Skanska UK experienced its first Li-ion battery fire. A statement from the fire service at the time advised that fires of this nature were becoming an almost daily occurrence.

In conclusion, the presenters said that construction projects must robustly risk assess the hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries, and that the following points need to be considered:

  • Awareness needs to be raised with projects and the supply chain
  • Battery charging arrangements and the standard of battery banks needs reviewing
  • Suitable disposal arrangements need to be provided
  • Suitable class extinguishing media (Lith Ex/AVD) need to be provided
  • Arrangements surrounding e-bikes, electric plant and electric vehicles need to be reviewed.


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