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Safety | December 31, 2021

Damaged Lithium-Ion Battery Safety

Electronic devices are everywhere these days. Laptops, cell phones, tablets, hotspots, handheld gaming consoles, and electric cars, and these devices all share one thing in common: they rely on Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries to run.

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Electronic devices are everywhere these days. Laptops, cell phones, tablets, hotspots, handheld gaming consoles, and electric cars, and these devices all share one thing in common: they rely on Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries to run. The advent of Li-Ion batteries in 1991 has undoubtedly changed the world of electronics. Li-ion batteries have a very high energy density, no memory effect, charge quickly, and store their charge for a long time compared to other battery types. They have one drawback; they can prove a safety hazard because they contain flammable electrolytes.

Li-ion batteries generate heat during charging and discharging. When the heat generated exceeds the normal tolerances for the device, damage to the battery can occur. Once a Li-Ion battery is damaged, the electrolytes inside the battery can break down into its basic components, and gas starts to build. A short within the battery can cause the electrolyte and the built-up gas to combust, leading to a battery fire or explosion.

How to tell if a Li-Ion Battery is damaged

Li-Ion batteries are, on the whole, very safe to use. It’s when they become damaged that they can become dangerous. The most significant indicator of damage is battery swelling. Once a Li-Ion battery begins to swell, it is damaged, and its usage needs to be discontinued immediately. When a battery swells, it usually will break the external case on the laptop or electronic device. Once you see this indicator on a computer or device you’re using, it’s crucial to reach out immediately to your local technician for a replacement. A loaner device will be on hand or prepared for you, or the affected battery will be replaced right away.

We have recently had a Li-Ion battery fire here at Rosendin. As a result of this event, we have put in place safety measures and replacement guidelines for these damaged batteries. Within each region where we have a technician, we are designating an area that is safe for these battery replacements to occur. A Li-Ion battery fire or explosion is a very hazardous event. The fire itself can reach temperatures of 1000°F. The resulting fire is best extinguished with a Class B fire extinguisher, but you should never attempt to put the fire out by throwing water on the fire or trying to stomp the fire out. In addition to the fire, the burning battery emits toxic fumes, mainly Hydrogen Flouride gas.

It is vitally important for your safety that you do not attempt to replace a damaged battery on your own or make any attempt to reduce the swelling in your battery by puncturing the battery envelope. Puncturing a swollen battery can cause a short, which will result in a fire. Our utmost concern is your safety with these devices.

What to do if you have a swollen battery

If you have a damaged or swollen battery device, please follow the guidelines below to have your battery replaced by a technician.

  1. Discontinue use immediately If you notice the case on your device swelling or opening at the seams.
  2. Send an email to Rosendin’s Helpdesk ([email protected]) with the subject of “Swollen Battery,” and someone will get back to you promptly.
  3. Call the Helpdesk (1-844-REI-HELP) and inform them specifically that you have a swollen battery. They will contact your local IT technician and submit a ticket for them right away. Your local technician will reach out to you as soon as they can.
  4. Make sure your computer is powered off and not plugged into a docking station or power cable. It’s critical that a damaged battery no longer be charged. Doing so can cause the battery to undergo further damage resulting in a fire.
  5. Your local technician will either replace the battery or provide a loaner computer depending on replacement battery availability.

What to do in the event of a battery fire

In the event of a fire, it is vital that you consistently back up your laptop data. OneDrive is an excellent tool for this where you can easily back up your desktop and document folder. The IT Helpdesk can help you with the process. Take some time to know where your fire extinguishers are located in each of your offices and project sites. If you do not have a Class B fire extinguisher, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local safety manager. If you do have a device that experiences a fire, here’s what to do:

  1. If your device ‘starts smoking, and you can do so safely, pull any power connections from the system, and get the computer or device on the floor clear of flammable material.
  2. Use a Class B fire extinguisher and extinguish the fire based on the instructions.
    • DO NOT attempt to stomp on the device to extinguish the fire.
    • DO NOT use water or any other liquid to attempt to put out the fire.
    • DO NOT handle the device once it is on fire. Find something to sweep the laptop or device to the floor if it’s not already there.
  3. Call 911 immediately, and evacuate yourself and others, so you are clear of the smoke from the fire. The smoke contains toxic chemicals.
  4. Stay safe and clear of the area until the fire department clears a return to the space. Laptops, cell phones, and other things can be replaced. People cannot. 
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About Rosendin

Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Rosendin is employee-owned and one of the largest electrical contractors in the United States, employing over 7,500 people, with revenues averaging $2 billion. Established in 1919, Rosendin remains proud of our more than 100 years of building quality electrical and communications installations and value for our clients but, most importantly, for building people within our company and our communities. Our customers lead some of the most complex construction projects in history and rely on us for our knowledge, our ability to scale, and our dedication to quality. At Rosendin, we work to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential by building a culture that is diverse, safe, welcoming, and inclusive.

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