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ACCC calls for crackdown to stop lithium battery fires

Two backpackers were lucky to escape when a faulty e-bike battery ignited this blaze in a Sydney hostel.

Two backpackers were lucky to escape when a faulty e-bike battery ignited this blaze in a Sydney hostel. Photo: FRNSW

The consumer watchdog has urged the federal government to urgently improve how lithium-ion batteries are disposed of as the number of fires involving the product grows.

A report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has called for government and industry to develop ways for the batteries to be safely disposed of, as well as increased safety measures for consumers.

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly found in products such as laptops, mobile phones and e-scooters.

The power sources are widely used because they can be recharged efficiently but there has been an increase in batteries catching fire or exploding if they are damaged or used incorrectly.

The commission’s deputy chair Catriona Lowe said all levels of government, along with the industry and consumers needed to work together to manage the safety of the batteries.

“We are concerned by increasing reports of lithium-ion battery fires resulting in property damage and serious injuries, including burns, chemical exposure and smoke inhalation,” she said.

“We recommend that government and industry continue to develop solutions to ensure lithium-ion batteries are safely designed and can be sustainably disposed.”

The consumer watchdog said it had received more than 230 product safety reports relating to lithium-ion batteries in the past five years alone, with one person killed in a fire believed to have been caused by the power source.

In the same period, 23 battery recalls were put in place, affecting more than 89,000 products.

Ms Lowe said the product’s safety was critical as the batteries were a major part of the transition to net-zero emissions.

“Consumers should avoid mixing and matching chargers, unplug products when fully charged and charge batteries in a cool, dry place and away from combustible materials like beds, lounges or carpet,” she said.

The commission made six recommendations in its report, calling for all levels of government to expand data collection around lithium-ion batteries, expand consumer safety messages and establish a nationally consistent framework.

The consumer watchdog also said state and territory regulators should introduce requirements for the testing and storage of the batteries.

“Some state and territory electrical safety regulators don’t have the power to regulate extra low voltage products, many of which contain lithium-ion batteries,” Ms Lowe said.

– AAP

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