Battery Fire Safety in Healthcare

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    In a world where most of us spend several hours a day using battery-powered devices, lithium-ion batteries are becoming much more widespread. From laptops and mobile phones to electric cars to even personal vaping devices, lithium-ion batteries have become increasingly responsible for powering the lives of millions of people every day.

    However, with this increased usage comes a fire risk, which underlines the importance of implementing proper battery safety protocols, especially in healthcare settings where a fire could be particularly detrimental to the environment and vulnerable patients.

    Healthcare environments are particularly vulnerable to serious consequences from a battery fire due to the increased risk of patients being unable to evacuate quickly and safely. Take the recent case of a fire that happened at Royal Free Hospital after a vape battery exploded as an example. Thankfully, according to the fire service, the fire was safely extinguished by a staff member with an extinguisher before firefighters arrived. This stresses the importance of making sure that specialist battery fire safety solutions are put in place to mitigate this new risk.

    Understanding Lithium-Ion Battery Risks

    It’s important to note that lithium-ion batteries are generally safe during normal use. However, risks are escalating quickly due to the increase in the use of battery-powered devices in everyday life over the last few years. The chemical makeup of lithium-ion batteries focuses on high energy density, and when the structure of a battery cell is compromised, decomposition within the battery can quickly lead to thermal runaway, a battery fire and sometimes an explosion as well. Although decomposition could have been happening for a long time, the fire and explosion take place in a split second. This means preventative measures should always be taken to protect against the possibility of a battery fire.

    Common causes of lithium-ion battery fires include overcharging, short-circuiting, physical damage to the battery and exposure to high temperatures.

    How are Lithium-Ion Battery Fires Different to Regular Fires?

    When lithium-ion batteries catch fire, it's often due to a process called thermal runaway. Thermal runaway occurs when one cell in the battery overheats, generating enough heat to cause adjacent cells to overheat as well. While the early stages of degradation in a battery can develop gradually over a long time, the process of thermal runaway happens very rapidly, creating a fierce, dangerous fire instantly.

    During thermal runaway, one of the most dangerous things that can occur is a Vapor Cloud Explosion (VCE). As the battery overheats, the electrolyte and other flammable components can vaporise, creating a highly combustible vapour cloud. If this cloud is ignited, it can result in a powerful explosion, which is especially dangerous in any enclosed environment and could even be fatal for patients who are already sick.

    Lithium-ion battery fires are also unique because they are self-oxygenating. Because it is a chemical reaction within the battery, a lithium-ion battery fire cannot simply be extinguished by removing the oxygen or the heat from the fire. It will continue to produce oxygen and heat within the battery until the chemical reaction has been completed.

    In reality, this means a lithium-ion battery fire can keep flaring up even once the flames have been knocked down and the fire appears to be extinguished. Once a lithium-ion battery fire has initially been extinguished, the battery needs to be kept cool and under observation for hours afterwards to manage the risk of it flaring up again.

    In short, lithium-ion batteries burn much faster and hotter than regular fires. Implementing battery safety measures in healthcare environments can help manage the risk and create peace of mind for workers, patients and the public alike.

    Specific Risks in Healthcare Environments

    Many medical devices today are powered by lithium-ion batteries, including commonly used devices such as defibrillators, infusion pumps and portable monitors. These devices are very common in healthcare environments and are used daily to track and monitor the health and vitals of patients.

    Pillows that were burned after a patient's phone caught fire whilst charging under the pillows.

    Combine this with the number of personal devices used by the public, patients and workers, including mobile phones, laptops and e-cigarette devices, and you have a high number of lithium-ion batteries and an increased risk of a battery fire.

    If these batteries, which are used for healthcare reasons or otherwise, fail or catch fire and the necessary lithium-ion battery precautions are not in place, it quickly places the lives of many vulnerable people in danger.

    Hospital evacuations are highly complex due to many different reasons, including:

    • A higher number of vulnerable people who may not be as mobile or easy to move as the average person
    • Patients who are dependent on mains-powered devices to survive
    • Patients in critical care who it may be highly inadvisable to move

    When you do some analysis, it’s easy to see the critical need for a robust battery fire safety strategy in healthcare to mitigate the risks presented in a battery fire emergency.

    Best Practices for Battery Fire Safety in Healthcare

    Along with placing effective fire safety products in place so that you are protected against lithium-ion battery fires, it is important to implement battery fire safety best practices. This includes:

    Storage and Charging Protocols

    Develop a detailed protocol for the use, charging and storage of battery-powered devices, including lithium-ion batteries themselves. This should outline best practices for the safe storage and charging of lithium-ion batteries including, where possible, the creation of dedicated fire-protected areas and hazard rooms for charging.

    Training and Awareness

    It's very important to train staff and patients (where possible) on the safe use and handling of batteries and battery-powered devices and ensure that fire wardens and fire safety advisors are well-prepared to handle battery-related incidents.

    Regular Fire Risk Assessments and Updates

    Conduct regular reviews and updates of fire safety protocols to incorporate lessons learned from any incidents, changes in legislation and recommended best practices.

    Use Appropriate Fire Suppression Systems

    For areas with high concentrations of lithium-ion batteries (charging rooms or battery storage spaces), installing specialised fire suppression systems designed to control battery fires, such as Pyrocloud, is a great option to ensure peace of mind within your healthcare environment.

    How Firechief® Global can help

    At Firechief Global, we offer innovative fire safety products & solutions that are trusted to perform when the heat is on. Whether you’re a Health & Safety Manager or are looking to better protect your home or workplace against battery fires, we can provide peace of mind. Check out our Lithium-Ion Battery Safety Range here.

    We have developed a range of innovative fire safety products & solutions specifically designed to mitigate and control the risk of lithium-ion battery fires.

    Our range includes Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Extinguishers, Battery Fire Blankets, Fire Resistant Containers, Fire Suppression Kits and Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Suppression Granules.

    Additionally, we believe in the power of awareness. At Firechief Academy, we offer CPD-accredited training courses on the topic of lithium-ion battery fire safety. If you're looking for more education on this topic, or training for your wider team, check out our Level 1 CPD course - it's free of charge!

    Contact us via email, telephone or our Contact Us Form, or complete a quote basket today.

    Disclaimer

    The Firechief® range includes high-performance fire extinguishers, fire blankets, first aid kits, lithium-ion fire extinguishers and the Kitchen Stove Guard. For more information, call us on +44 (0)330 999 0019 or email sales@firechiefglobal.com.

    The information contained within this blog is provided solely for general informational and educational purposes and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Before taking any actions based upon this information, we advise the reader to consult any and all relevant statutory or regulatory guidance and where felt necessary to consult a qualified fire or industry regulation professional. The use or reliance on any information contained herein is solely at the reader's risk.