Beware of lithium-ion battery safety at home this Christmas


A rise in the severity of house fires due to an increase in popularity of rechargeable lithium-ion battery products in homes has prompted a warning for Aussies to know the safety risk this Christmas.


Beware of lithium-ion battery safety at home this Christmas

Pictured: An e-scooter-related apartment fire in Brisbane earlier this year.

Suncorp Group’s Executive General Manager Home Claims Customers, Alli Smith said Christmas was already a high-risk period for housefires but could be made worse by not understanding the safe use, storage and dangers of lithium-ion battery products like e-scooters and e-bikes.

“Most modern devices like laptops, mobile phones, power tools, e-cigarettes and electric vehicles have rechargeable lithium-ion batteries containing highly flammable electrolytes, but a surge in popularity of items like e-scooters and e-bikes and a link to housefires in recent years is concerning,” Ms Smith said.

“These batteries, if used, charged, stored or disposed of incorrectly, could be prone to intense, difficult-to-extinguish fires when damaged or overheated and pose a significant risk in the home.

“What’s particularly concerning is that they can often explode or emit an intense self-sustaining fire that is not easily extinguishable by water or traditional fire extinguishers making the dangers and damage from this type of fire worse.

“And while the batteries might not have always been the cause of the fire, the fire can be so much worse if there are more flammable items in homes like lithium-ion batteries.

“Fires caused by or made worse by lithium-ion batteries can be life threatening, so the dangers are very real.”

Ms Smith said that while the number of fire claims has decreased over the last decade, there has been a general shift towards higher severity house fire claims.

“What our data is showing us is that small fire claims like those generally caused by cooking are decreasing, which makes sense with environmental trends like the rise of food delivery services and the increased use of items like air fryers which don’t use a lot of oil," she said.

“But when there is a house fire, it’s more severe, notably due to items like batteries, electrical faults and appliances making it so much worse.

“For instance, in 2014, just 82 of our claims were for large fires over $400,000; that is now up to 160 in 2023.

According to the ACCC, it’s estimated a household will have on average 33 devices powered by lithium-ion batteries by 2026, prompting its own recent warning for consumers to use and store batteries safely to prevent fires.

Fire agencies across the country have also issued similar warnings.

New South Wales Fire and Rescue reported 165 fires involving lithium-ion batteries across NSW last year, and 185 fires to date this year (as at 8 December).

Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner, Jeremy Fewtrell AFSM, said:

“If a battery is compromised through damage or overheating, it can go into what we call ‘Thermal Runaway'.

“It will pop and crackle, then give off toxic gas before exploding in intense flames that are extremely difficult to extinguish.

“If you’re buying presents that require lithium-ion batteries this Christmas, make sure those batteries are manufactured by a trusted company.”

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services reports a total of 127 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries last financial year, while the tally for this financial year is 61 with more than six months to go. They are also currently running an awareness campaign in the lead up to Christmas called Take Charge to promote safety around lithium-ion batteries.

Victorian fire agencies say they respond to at least one significant lithium-ion battery-related fire each week and this trend is expected to increase.

#Tips to use and store lithium-ion batteries safely:

Avoid mixing and matching chargers.

Unplug products when fully charged.

Allow time for batteries to cool after use and before charging.

Charge batteries in a cool, dry and shaded place and away from combustible materials like beds, lounges or carpet.

Check batteries for signs of overheating, swelling, leaking or venting gas.

Do not dispose of batteries in household rubbish, recycling or kerbside pick up.

Call 000 immediately in the event of a fire.

“Whether you’re considering buying an e-scooter or power tools as a Christmas gift or planning to use your e-bike more frequently over the holiday period, you need to know how to charge and store them safely in the home,” Ms Smith said.

“It’s also a timely reminder for people to check their smoke alarms are working.

“I’ve seen first-hand the devastation when someone loses their home to a house fire and there is nothing worse than this happening over the Christmas period.

“We want everyone to have a safe and happy holiday season and that includes keeping you and your home safe.”

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