Swollen, damaged or malfunctioning batteries can be a major fire and safety risk, but a lot of people are unaware of the hazard these common batteries present. For this reason, the ACCC is seeking information via a survey about consumer sentiment and knowledge relating to safety issues associated with lithium-ion batteries.
I’ve copied some background info from the ACCC below, and if you have a few minutes to spare then completing the survey can play a part in improving product safety in Australia. The survey is located here and will close on Friday 11 November. Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to take the survey!
The ACCC is scoping product safety issues and risk mitigation strategies in relation to
lithium-ion batteries as one of our product safety priority areas for 2022-23.
The ACCC undertakes an annual scan to identify current and emerging product safety
issues. Through these scans we have identified products containing li-ion batteries as an
emerging concern over the past three years.
In the last 5 years, the ACCC has had approximately 200 contacts relating to li-ion batteries.
Many of these involved mobile phones and tablets, with approximately 50 of the reports
involving an injury.
We are aware that only a fraction of incidents are reported to us. Internal media monitoring
indicates that there are increasing numbers of incidents resulting in serious injuries, fatalities
and property damage in Australia and overseas involving a broad range of products
containing li-ion batteries.
There is a potentially high risk to public safety due to the widespread use of li-ion batteries in
a growing range of consumer products.
A lack of awareness of which products contain li-ion batteries and the risks associated with
li-ion batteries by consumers may mean that the consumers are unable to perceive or
safeguard against the risks appropriately.
The ACCC’s key concerns include:
the increasing prevalence of products containing li-ion batteries in Australian homes,
including power tools, camping and gardening equipment, e-bikes and scooters, and
electronic devices such as phones and laptops,
the potential for li-ion batteries to be overcharged resulting in appliances overheating
and potentially becoming a fire risk,
incorrect disposal of li-ion batteries, including the potential for fires as a result of
being compacted in garbage trucks and the potential environmental impact,
battery damage due to punctures or environmental exposure, which can increase the
likelihood of fires,
the fact that li-ion battery fires are volatile, have a tendency to escalate quickly, and
are difficult to extinguish, and
an apparent lack of consumer awareness about the potential risks and how to safely
Why do li-ion batteries catch fire?
Li-ion batteries contain electrolytes that are highly flammable. ‘Thermal runaway’ can cause
these batteries to rapidly overheat and create self-sustaining fires that cannot be easily
extinguished by water spray or use of a fire extinguisher. A malfunction of li-ion batteries
may also result in violent bursting of one or multiple battery cells, hissing and release of
toxic, flammable and explosive gases. This may occur due to:
- Use of charging equipment that is incompatible with the device or non-compliant
- Subjecting the battery to heat
- Subjecting the battery to moisture or allowing water to ingress
- Physical abuse (e.g. dropping, crushing, piercing, and/or vibrations)
- Short-circuiting, battery cell malfunctions or system faults
- Defects or contamination introduced during manufacture
How do I know if a product contains a li-ion battery?
Phones, computers, e-cigarettes, toys, vacuum cleaners, gardening tools and other
household battery powered tools often contain rechargeable li-ion batteries. There is no
mandatory requirement to label devices that contain li-ion batteries, however many will be
labelled with “lithium ion”, “Li-ion”, “Li-po”, “lithium-polymer” or some other variation of “Li”. If
the battery is rechargeable and has “Li” or “lithium” printed on it, you may assume that it is a
How can I prevent a product containing li-ion batteries from catching fire?
Only purchase and use devices and equipment from reputable manufacturers and
Only use chargers that are supplied with the equipment or device, or third-party
charging equipment that is compatible with the battery specifications. Using chargers
with incorrect power delivery (voltage and current) can cause damage to the battery
including overheating that can lead to fires.
Check that the device and charger bear the Regulatory Compliance Mark, to show
that it has met the relevant Australian Standards under the Electrical Equipment
Safety System (EESS). Consumers can also go to eess.gov.au to check whether
their charger is approved for use in Australia.
Avoid leaving batteries or devices unattended while being charged or charging
overnight. Once the indicator shows that a device or battery has been fully charged,
disconnect it from the charger.
Many devices (those made by reputable manufacturers) monitor their battery’s level
of charge and switch the charger off once it is nearing full charge. Make sure this
feature is included in battery-equipped devices and chargers before leaving them to
Don’t charge batteries or devices on combustible and insulating surfaces such as
beds, sofas or carpet, and keep them away from highly flammable materials such as
blankets, clothing, and paper.
Larger batteries and equipment such as power tools and electric scooters should be
charged in the garage, shed or carport away from living spaces.
Ensure functioning smoke/heat alarms are installed wherever you charge your
lithium-ion battery containing devices.
Never store or leave batteries and devices in areas where they can be exposed to
heat or moisture. This includes in:
- Direct sunlight or
- Parked vehicles.
Don’t use batteries or devices that show signs of damage.
What are the signs of a damaged battery?
- Pungent odours
- Discolouration, blistering, bulging, or swelling of the casing
- Leaking electrolyte
- Heating up and feeling extremely hot to touch
- Abnormal popping, hissing or crackling sounds
- Smoke and fumes
- Mechanical damage: cracked, dented, punctured or crushed.
What should I do with a damaged device or battery?
Do not put these batteries in regular waste or recycling collection bins.
If your battery or device is leaking or damaged (but not overheated or off-gassing), place it in
a clear plastic bag and take it to a community recycling centre, waste management centre or
hazardous household waste collection point for disposal.
How should I dispose of undamaged li-ion batteries?
Li-ion batteries should not be placed into household waste bins or recycling bins, as they can
cause fires during waste collection, transportation, handling and processing.
Undamaged batteries (not swollen, punctured, or leaking, etc.) can be safely disposed of at
a battery recycling drop off point. It is recommended that battery terminals are taped over
with sticky tape or electrical tape before placing them into battery recycling collection bins.
More information on where and how to dispose of used batteries can be found from:
- Planet Ark
- Mobile Muster
- Australian Battery Recycler’s Initiative
What if my device or battery is smoking or on fire?
Thermal runaway events involving batteries can occur rapidly and can often be quite violent,
involving toxic smoke and vapours, flames and metal projectiles.
Never touch a swollen or ruptured device or battery with bare hands as the heat
and/or/chemicals can cause severe burns.
If the device or battery starts to smoke or emit flames, follow this advice given by Fire and