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Stark warning on safety measures for e-bikes and scooters as battery fires rise

9:51 am, Tuesday, 12th December 2023 - 6 months ago

Environment and community safety

Trading Standards have issued a stark warning to local people who buy e-bikes or e-scooters this Christmas after the number of fires related to lithium batteries quadrupled in the UK in the last three years.

Overheating lithium-ion batteries create fierce fires, releasing toxic smoke, and are now occurring at the rate of at least six a week in the UK, according to fire and safety experts.

National figures show that 190 people have been injured in fires related to lithium-ion batteries in the UK since 2020, and 10 have proved fatal.

North East Lincolnshire’s Trading Standards team is urging people to beware of buying from less regulated online marketplaces, such as China, and has backed  an Important Safety Message from the UK’s national product regulator, highlighting the steps people should take when owning or thinking of buying an e-bike or scooter

The Office for Product and Safety Standards (OPSS) says buyers should follow these five steps when purchasing, using or charging an e-bike or e-scooter to reduce fire risks:

  • Step 1:  RESEARCH– only BUY an e-bike, e-scooter, charger or battery from a known seller and check any product reviews
  • Step 2: READ– always READ and FOLLOW the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and using e-bikes or e-scooters
  • Step 3: CHECK– not all e-bike or e-scooter batteries and chargers are compatible or safe when used together. Check and only USE the manufacturer’s recommended battery or charger
  • Step 4: CHARGE– always charge in a safe place without blocking exits and always UNPLUG your charger when you have finished charging
  • Step 5: NEVER– attempt to modify or tamper with your battery

Cllr Ron Shepherd, Portfolio Holder for Safer and Stronger Communities, in North East Lincolnshire, said:

“As the popularity of e-bikes and e-scooters increases we are seeing more dangerous incidents involving fires in homes where e-bikes or e-scooters are charging. I urge people to follow the safety guidelines and to only buy e-bikes and scooters from reputable dealers.

“Even then, it is really important that you adhere to the safety guidelines around charging lithium-ion batteries to avoid what could be a very serious or even fatal incident A fire can develop quickly, within a few seconds, and often without warning. Formation of smoke or a white vapour cloud indicate the start of battery failure and fire.

“We have listed some advice here on what to do if you spot any problems. E-bikes and scooters will appeal to many people as gifts for Christmas but the most important thing to remember is safety. They do not come without risks and people must be aware of what to look out for and what to do if they have any concerns about the safety of their products.”

Follow the guidelines below for the safe use of e-bikes and e-scooters.

You must stop using or charging your battery immediately if you notice any of the following:

  • Overheating: If your device’s battery feels extremely hot to the touch
  • Deformation: If your battery looks swollen. Similar signs include any type of lump or leaking from the device.
  • Noise: If your battery is making hissing or cracking sounds.
  • Smell: If you notice a strong or unusual smell coming from the battery
  • Performance: If your battery does not fully charge or is taking longer to charge than normal
  • Smoke: If your battery or device is smoking.

What you must do if your lithium-ion battery is a fire risk

  • If the device starts smoking or catches fire, raise the alarm, get out, stay out and call 999 immediately. 
  • If your battery shows any signs of failure, turn off the device and unplug it from the power source immediately. 
  • Call the device manufacturer or retailer for further advice.
  • Ensure you report your faulty charger or battery to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service. They can also provide you with advice on your consumer rights.

Safely charging your e-bike or e-scooter

  • Don’t charge e-bikes and e-scooters in bedrooms or where escape routes can be blocked – for example, hallways.
  • Don’t leave your battery charging unattended, when you are out or while you are asleep.
  • Don’t cover chargers or battery packs when charging
  • Don’t overload sockets or use inappropriate extension leads
  • Don’t charge or store batteries in direct sunlight or in hot locations (above 45⁰C)
  • Don’t charge batteries close to combustible materials or hazardous substances.
  • Always unplug your charger when you have finished charging
  • If your battery can be removed from your e-bike or e-scooter and charged separately, it should be charged on a hard flat surface where heat can disperse and in area with good ventilation.

Fire Safety

  • Fit smoke alarms in the area where you charge your batteries.
  • Charge batteries and test them once a month to make sure they work.
  • Make sure you and your family have an escape plan in place in the event of a fire. Always get out then call 999, never try to fight the fire yourself.

Maintaining your e-bike or e-scooter

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and using your product.
  • Always use the manufacturer-approved battery and charger.
  • If you need a replacement battery or charger for your e-bike or e-scooter go directly back to the manufacturer or retailer you bought it from to ensure it’s safe.
  • Regularly inspect your product and check for damage or warning signs that your battery might be failing and becoming a fire risk.
  • Don’t attempt to modify or tamper with your battery.

Buying e-bikes and e-scooters

  • Only buy e-bikes, e-scooters, chargers and batteries from reputable retailers and manufacturers.
  • Check the product is marked with a CE or UKCA mark to ensure they comply with UK product safety standards.
  • Check product reviews before buying
  • Register your product with the manufacturer to validate any warranties and make it easier for manufacturers to contact you in the event of a safety issue e.g. product recall.
  • Check if products have been recalled by visiting the government Product Recalls and Alerts website at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/product-recalls-and-alerts
  • E-Bike conversion kits

         Conversion kits change standard bicycles into e-bikes.

  • It is recommended that a professional carries out an e-bike conversion. They will be responsible for ensuring that the e-bike is safe and fitted with the correct motor, battery and charger.
  • Installing a conversion kit yourself could lead to safety issues with your e-bike and increase the risk of fire.
  • Furthermore, it could invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty and make you responsible for any consequent damage or accident. If you modify an e-bike to increase its power or speed then it may no longer be legal to use on public roads

Disposing of a lithium-ion battery

  • Lithium-ion batteries should not be placed in the same bins as your regular rubbish or recycling. They can cause a fire if they overheat or when crushed in bin lorries or waste and recycling plants.
  • You can find out how to dispose of your lithium-ion battery safely by checking your local authority’s website for information about the safe disposal of batteries in your area or you can find your nearest recycling centre at: www.recycleyourelectricals.org.uk

Using your e-bikes or e-scooter

  • Currently, in the UK only e-scooters participating in official rental e-scooter trials may be used legally on roads. Other e-scooters are classed as Powered Transporters and cannot be used legally on the road. If you use an e-scooter illegally, you could face a fine and penalty points on your licence, and the e-scooter could be impounded.
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