Lithium Batteries – The Dangers!

Wednesday August 2016

We all use lithium batteries in our phones, tablets and other devices. It is worth remembering that they are not as safe as people think. This cautionary tale about transporting them by air may make those who produce, carry or use lithium batteries think carefully about the risks associated with them.

On 26 April 2014, a passenger checked in four bags for a Fiji Airways flight from Melbourne,Victoria, to Nadi, Fiji, on a Boeing 737 aircraft. The passenger stated during check-in that there were no batteries in the checked bags, but declared 8 lithium batteries being carried as hand luggage. The bags were screened in accordance with the Aviation Transport Security Regulations.

As the passengers’ bags were being loaded, the cabin crew members were on board preparing the aircraft prior to boarding of passengers, and the first officer was in the cockpit conducting pre-flight checks. The captain was on the tarmac, conducting an external inspection of the aircraft. A ground engineer observed smoke emanating from the aft cargo hold and alerted the captain.

An investigation revealed that several lithium-ion polymer batteries were contained in the case. An electrical short circuit involving the batteries resulted in the initiation of a fire,destroying the contents and damaging the case. The fire-damaged case had been screened through the oversized luggage point at Melbourne Airport.

The much talked about incidents with lithium batteries that grounded the Boeing Dreamliner made a lot of headlines, but incident like this highlight the fact that many more near accidents and accidents have also occurred. The problem occurs because of the simple yet unavoidable consequences of battery operation. Batteries operate via a controlled chemical reaction that generates current and transmits power through the battery terminals. This process generates heat.

Rapid increase in temperature and pressure in the battery cells may result in fire. Even batteries not connected to devices or machinery have been known to heat up. Not surprisingly there is a substantial and growing series of legal requirements for those who transport lithium batteries. If you or your staff need training on the safe transport and storage of Lithium batteries, give us a call on 0800 328 3297.