ACCC Zeroes In On Rechargeables Following Surge of Fires

Top of the list of the ACCC’s (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) product safety priorities for 2023 is lithium-ion battery safety.

The key issue with lithium-ion batteries is the potential for ‘Thermal Runaway’. The batteries contain flammable electrolytes and highly reactive materials. If a battery is damaged, overcharged, subjected to extreme temperatures, or has a manufacturing defect, a thermal runaway reaction can cause the battery to heat up rapidly, potentially resulting in a fire or explosion. Worse, these fires can be difficult or impossible to extinguish using normal methods.

In March 2023, data collated by the University of New South Wales from state fire departments show that in an 18-month period, more than 450 fires across Australia were directly linked to lithium-ion batteries. This is in spite of current Australian safety standards.

Under the Australian government’s ‘General Safety’ provision, the responsibility for the safety of products equipped with a lithium-ion battery can rest with the manufacturer, distributor or retailer, depending on the origin of the device. Fines for non-compliance with safety standards can reach the multi-millions of dollars, and in severe cases, imprisonment of responsible individuals is also possible.

Lithium-ion batteries and products using lithium batteries are included in a raft of safety standards, regulated by EESS (Electrical Equipment Safety System), Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 60335, the Australian Dangerous Goods (ADG) Code, various State and Territory Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations as well as International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations.

This is quite a complex web of standards and not for the faint hearted (or part-time) compliance manager, especially where multiple products or product variants are involved. Given the current level of focus on the issue by ACCC, a far better strategy for companies is to seek expert advice to ensure their compliance is watertight regarding products containing lithium-ion batteries.

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