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UK sees rise in lithium-ion battery fires in 2023

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QBE report highlights surge in battery fires

UK fire services attended 46% more fires linked to lithium-ion batteries in 2023 than in 2022, as reported by QBE.

The batteries, which power electric vehicles such as bikes, scooters, and cars, were involved in nearly three fires daily last year, up from under two fires a day the previous year.

QBE is advocating for improvements in lithium-ion battery safety due to the unique dangers these fires pose.

Adrian Simmonds, practice leader for property risk solutions at QBE Insurance, said: “We see more fires linked to lithium-ion batteries, which is concerning.

“They burn differently from normal fires, so people attempting to put them out run more risks of injury.”

Rise in fires across various electric vehicles

Data collected by QBE from FOI requests to all UK fire services shows a significant increase in fires involving electric vehicles.

In 2023, 270 fires were linked to electric bikes, a 70% rise from the 158 incidents in 2022.

Similarly, electric scooter fires increased by 7%, from 117 to 125.

The London Fire Brigade recorded the highest number of lithium-ion fires last year with 378 incidents, followed by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service with 70, and Avon Fire and Rescue Service, covering Bath and Bristol, with 57.

Surprisingly, Greater Manchester reported fewer lithium-ion fires (24) than West Sussex (25).

Electric car and bus fires

Fires involving electric cars increased by 33%, rising from 89 incidents in 2022 to 118 in 2023.

This figure remains relatively low compared to the one million electric cars on UK roads.

Additionally, the UK recorded more fires involving electric buses and trucks than any other European country.

Fires involving electric buses rose by 22% last year, while incidents involving electric trucks quadrupled.

QBE’s Simmonds emphasized the need for better safety measures: “We welcome the adoption of electric vehicles.

To help with a safer rollout, we are calling for more support for fire services to help improve education in dealing with the new risk profile.”

Safety recommendations from QBE

Lithium-ion fires result from “thermal runaway,” where batteries overheat irreversibly, often due to impact damage, over-charging, or overheating.

To mitigate risks, QBE provided recommendations for safe use and charging of electric devices and vehicles.

Consumers are advised to buy electric devices from reputable retailers, use the provided chargers, and charge devices in well-ventilated areas away from combustible materials.

Businesses using electric vehicles should ensure chargers are at least 2 meters away from combustibles and have formal maintenance contracts for chargers.

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