Less than 24 hours after 70 backpackers fled a fire in a Sydney hostel sparked by a lithium battery, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a strong warning to the public regarding usage and storage of batteries, which are fuelling fires throughout Australia.
“We are concerned by increasing reports of lithium-ion battery fires resulting in property damage and serious injuries, including burns, chemical exposure and smoke inhalation,” ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe said.
In New South Wales alone, there have been roughly 165 lithium-related fires in the state, and one Australian has reportedly died in a lithium-ion battery fire.
The ACCC has had 231 product safety reports concerning lithium-ion batteries in the past five years, with 23 recalls affecting around 89,000 products.
The ACCC says these fires are rising based on the number of reports of fires emerging. This has led the organisation to warn consumers about serious fire hazards from lithium-ion batteries and suggest consumers check and dispose of the batteries carefully.
The overheating rechargeable lithium-ion batteries can be found in a number of household items and modes of transportation, such as most e-scooters, electric cars, e-bikes, mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and also power tools.
The ACCC said to be cautious when charging devices and disposing of batteries because the types of fires caused by these batteries erupt quickly and can be hazardous and challenging to extinguish.
Australia’s transition to net zero emissions does hinge on incorporating batteries, right now lithium-ion batteries, instead of fuel, but the ACCC urges consumers to exercise caution.
“Managing lithium-ion battery safety is complex, and government, industry and consumers must tackle the challenge together. Our report makes recommendations to protect consumers better, and includes practical advice to reduce the risks associated with these batteries,” Ms Lowe said.
“Consumers should avoid mixing and matching chargers, unplug products when fully charged and charge batteries in a cool, dry place and away from combustible materials like beds, lounges or carpet.”
“Check your lithium-ion batteries for overheating signs of swelling, leaking or venting gas and immediately stop using your product if these signs are present,” Lowe said.
The number of batteries in the average household is anticipated to be roughly 33 devices powered by lithium-ion batteries by 2026, making the disposal of batteries critical because of their flammable properties.
“Consumers should keep lithium-ion batteries out of household rubbish and check recyclemate.com.au and bcycle.com.au for information about safe disposal,” Ms Lowe said.
“We recommend that government and industry continue to develop solutions to ensure lithium-ion batteries are safely designed and can be sustainably disposed.”
The real numbers of lithium-ion battery fires may be much higher because the incidents are underreported due to how the information is collected and shared.
To rectify inaccurate reporting, the ACCC has made suggestions to enhance data collection procedures to safeguard reporting.
The ACCC also puts the onus and burden on suppliers to recall when necessary, replace or refund potentially unsafe products, and additionally, on the government to create frameworks for suppliers.
“Some state and territory electrical safety regulators don’t have the power to regulate extra low voltage products, many of which contain lithium-ion batteries,” Lowe said.