Written by: Andy Marsh Fire and Life Safety Manager Chesley Brown International
Technological advances have been the driving force behind the way we communicate, the way we work, and possibly even the way we get to work. Despite all of that, it is still up for debate on whether it has enhanced our convenience or not. One particular emerging technological advances has been that of electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries, including automobiles, bicycles, and scooters. With the increased production of electric automobiles, we inevitably will continue to see an increase in the installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and unfortunately, we will also continue to see the hazards associated with them.
It is not a secret that damage caused by a major fire incident, smoke, or water damage from subsequent response of the incident, are some of the most difficult and costly incidents to recover from. That is why, in terms of risk management, taking time to pre-plan and evaluate the installation of these charging stations is a crucial step that all property managers must take. This article is intended to review those hazards, so you and your organization can make educated risk assessments when determining the value of these chargers on your property.
Understanding the Hazards: Fire and Safety Risks of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
First, in respect to the EV charging stations, there is a significant risk of smoke and fire that accompanies them. So, when installing these EV charging stations in your parking garages, fire protection of the area must be taken into consideration, as well as the placement of these charging stations themselves, to ensure that if an incident does occur, the fire can be contained quickly without spreading and causing further damage.
Another important element to consider is whether the current electrical system of your building can manage the power of the charging stations. Some questions to answer when deciding this would be to determine when your buildings electrical system was last updated and whether the building currently meets fire and electrical codes. It is also important to note that electrical fires are not always visible immediately and often burn in unseen areas for a while, so it is equally as important that certified electrical workmanship and solid infrastructure are in place to support the installation of EV chargers.
A further element to consider is how toxic the smoke from lithium-ion batteries can be. When these batteries burn, hydrogen fluoride and carbon monoxide are released into the air, which can have acute and chronic health effects on a person’s respiratory system.
Furthermore, lithium-ion batteries operate by using a negative anode and positive cathode, with electrons traveling back and forth, passing through an electrolyte fluid that is flammable and corrosive. If the electrolyte fluid escapes due to damage or excessive heat, that’s when thermal runaway can occur, and the fire will greatly intensify. The cell that is involved in fire can cause other cells to erupt into fire as well. Keep in mind that heat is energy.
The more heat the battery is exposed to, the greater the risk becomes or the greater the fire becomes.
Pre-Planning for Safety: Evaluating Risks and Mitigation Strategies for EV Charging Stations
The next hazard to consider, which is growing every day, is that of a cyber-attack on the EV charging station. Thanks to Bluetooth technology, these charging stations are at high risk for cyber-attacks. Hackers are able to disable the vehicles from operating correctly, and they can hack into these charging stations. One of the worst-case possibilities would be if a hacker took control of the EV charging station and was holding it hostage until they’re caught or when the demand for money has been paid.
Another hazard to consider is the potential for trip and falls. While these charging cables are big enough and capable of being seen, society of today is fast paced, with more of our attention being focused on our smart devices, than the hazards that are in front of us. Part of the pre-planning process should include discussions with your insurance carrier before installation of these EV charging stations.
Electrical shock is next up as a hazard to these charging stations. These charging stations have several classifications as to how long they will take to charge. In fact, a Level One charging station will deliver 110-240 volts of charge over a 24-hour period, a Level Two charger will deliver a charge of 240 volts in about a couple of hours, and a Level Three charger will deliver 400-900 volts in a short amount of time. Therefore, a good maintenance and inspection process to note and repair the wear and tear of these charging cables will serve you well.
One final hazard to evaluate is speed. While not intended, contributing to the fast-paced environment we currently live in is the fact that electric vehicles are quiet while being operated. People walking away from these charging stations, not paying attention to their surroundings, may not realize that another vehicle is approaching. Speeding in a parking garage that have charging stations can be problematic and possibly lead to incidental collisions or contact. Colliding with electric vehicles in general is problematic considering that, as previously stated, damaged lithium-ion batteries may lead to a fire.
Beyond Convenience: Unveiling the Hidden Dangers of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
Other information related to electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, and EV charging stations is out there. From a fire and life safety standpoint, the National Fire Protection Association and the United States Fire Administration has some of this information. Manufacturers are being requested to provide the fire service and the public the necessary information with the intent to keep us all safe. Take the time to read it as part of your pre-planning process. Stay safe.
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