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Lithium Batteries at Work

Many workers are wearing small electronic devices powered by lithium batteries as part of their daily routine. These units provide sustained power in a tiny space, providing practical benefits in many applications, including body cam use in law enforcement. 

These pint-sized batteries are normally safe. However, they could overheat or explode and cause injury if they have design defects, are made of low quality materials, are assembled incorrectly, become damaged, or are used or recharged improperly. While this is uncommon, it can have serious consequences.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reminds us that workplace injuries from lithium battery defects or damage are preventable. Incorporating the following guidelines into your safety program will help.

  • Ensure lithium batteries, chargers, and associated equipment are tested in accordance with an appropriate test standard (e.g., UL 2054) and certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), and are rated for their intended uses
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for storage, use, charging, and maintenance
  • When replacing batteries and chargers for an electronic device, make sure they are specifically designed and approved for use with the device, and they are purchased from the device’s manufacturer or a manufacturer authorized reseller
  • Remove lithium-powered devices and batteries from the charger once they are fully charged
  • Store lithium batteries and devices in dry, cool locations and in fire-resistant containers
  • Avoid damaging lithium batteries and devices. Inspect them for signs of damage, such as bulging/cracking, hissing, leaking, rising temperature, and smoking before use, especially if they are wearable
  • If batteries are damaged, remove from service and dispose in accordance with local, state, and federal regulations. Contact a local battery recycling center for disposal instructions
  • Follow the employer’s policy or manufacturer’s guidance on how to extinguish small battery fires, which could include using CO2, foam, Class D fire extinguishers (for lithium-metal), ABC dry chemical extinguishers, dirt, or sand

Employees who are exposed to lithium batteries should be trained about their proper use, care, and disposal.

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