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  • Writer's pictureTim Spears

Lithium-Ion Battery Fire at High-Rise Construction Site in Queens



In Queens, New York, a fire broke out on the 66th floor of a high-rise under construction. The culprit? Power tools powered by lithium-ion batteries. Dramatic footage captured by Eyewitness News ABC7NY showed the intensity of the flames upon the arrival of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Thankfully, no one was injured, as the building was vacant at the time (Eyewitness News ABC7NY, 2024).





FDNY Commissioner’s Perspective


Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh shared her insights with ABC7NY, highlighting the dangers of lithium-ion batteries and the need for national UL certification legislation. She emphasized that while e-bikes are often responsible for such incidents, other consumer devices like power tools also pose significant risks if not properly certified and managed (Eyewitness News ABC7NY, 2024).


Kavanagh advocated for mandatory UL certification to ensure safety across all lithium-ion-powered devices. She also revealed that the FDNY aims to raise awareness globally by participating in the World Fire Congress. Her call to action underscores the importance of public safety involvement in designing lithium-ion battery products and ensuring their safe use.


Understanding Lithium-Ion Battery Hazards in New Construction


Power tools used on construction sites often rely on lithium-ion batteries due to their high energy density and portability. However, the same features that make these batteries efficient also pose serious fire risks.


Key Hazards Include:


  • Thermal Runaway: When a battery overheats due to internal faults or external factors, it can lead to a cascading failure known as thermal runaway, resulting in fire or explosion.

  • Electrical Short Circuits: Damaged batteries may cause internal or external short circuits, leading to overheating and fire.

  • Overcharging and Deep Discharging: Incorrect charging practices can damage the battery cells and create fire hazards (Power Tool Institute, 2024).


Safe Handling and Use of Li-Ion Batteries for Power Tools The Power Tool Institute provides guidelines for the safe handling and use of lithium-ion batteries (Power Tool Institute, 2024):


  1. Read Manufacturer Instructions: Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for the battery, charger, and tool.

  2. Use Original Components: Use only original manufacturer-approved batteries, chargers, and tools to ensure compatibility and safety.

  3. Avoid Damage: Regularly inspect batteries for damage and avoid using them if they are punctured, crushed, or show signs of malfunction.

  4. Avoid Modifications: Never modify or disassemble the battery.

  5. Prevent Short Circuits: Avoid storing batteries with loose metal objects, and cover battery terminals when not in use.

  6. Monitor Battery Behavior: Look out for abnormal behavior such as prolonged charging times or reduced performance.

  7. Proper Storage: Store batteries in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight or high temperatures.


FAQs: Lithium-Ion Battery Safety in Construction


Q: What steps should construction managers take to ensure the safety of lithium-ion batteries?


A: Construction managers should enforce the use of UL-certified batteries, provide safety training for workers, and implement inspection protocols to identify damaged batteries early (Eyewitness News ABC7NY, 2024).


Q: Can aftermarket batteries be used safely in power tools?


A: It is recommended to use only batteries specified by the power tool manufacturer, as aftermarket batteries may lack proper safety features. (Power Tool Institute, 2024).


Q: What should be done with damaged or defective batteries?


A: Damaged batteries should be safely disposed of at authorized recycling facilities. Tape the terminals to prevent short circuits and follow federal, state, and local regulations for disposal (Power Tool Institute, 2024).


Legislative Actions and Industry Support


To address the risks posed by lithium-ion batteries, Commissioner Kavanagh was in Washington, D.C., advocating for national UL certification legislation. The bill, which has bipartisan support, aims to standardize safety requirements for all lithium-ion battery products. This legislation would complement ongoing efforts by organizations like the Power Tool Institute to educate the public and professionals on safe lithium-ion battery practices (Eyewitness News ABC7NY, 2024).


Call to Action for Building and Fire Safety Professionals


The Queens fire is a reminder of the importance of fire prevention and risk reduction. Building and fire safety professionals must stay vigilant and proactive by (Eyewitness News ABC7NY, 2024):

  • Incorporating public safety insights into lithium-ion battery design and usage policies.

  • Supporting national and local legislation that promotes UL certification.

  • Raising awareness about lithium-ion battery safety within their communities and organizations.


How can your organization improve the safe handling and use of lithium-ion batteries to prevent fire hazards on construction sites?


References


Eyewitness News ABC7NY. (2024, May 8). Power tools with lithium ion batteries sparked fire in Queens [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/pJY5nuxv5fw


Power Tool Institute. (2024). General Lithium Ion Battery Safety. Retrieved from https://www.powertoolinstitute.com/pti-pages/Li-Ion-Batteries-for-Power-Tools.asp

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