5 December 2016Fire Risks Involving Lithium-Ion Batteries & Tumble Dryers
In recent months and years there has been considerable media attention paid to two emerging causes of fire, Lithium-Ion Batteries & Tumble Dryers.
In particular recent attention has been focused on the fire risk posed by Tumble Dryers following the revelation of a flaw in Vented and Condenser Tumble Dryers from Whirlpool’s Hotpoint, Indesit and Creda brands (although Swan and Proline brands have also been named by some sources), manufactured between April 2004 and September 2015.
The Government has identified around 2,190 fires between 2012 and 2014 attributable to tumble dryers, including two fatalities. The Local Government Association has even called for a recall of the affected dryers.
Those are some pretty striking numbers, and while they do not break down the cost, we can assume it is significant. Our own RP clients have suffered 25 verified tumble dryer fires in the last five years accounting for almost half a million pounds in damage.
Factoring in the Level of Self-insurance in the sector and given the £3,782,126.13 worth of fires suffered in that time where the cause has only been attributed to “Electrical” or “Electrical Appliance”, typically due to the severity of damage, the chances are there are considerably more.
The consumer organisation, Which?, has identified the affected models and provided guidance on how to determine if your tumble dryer is affected. These models of tumble dryers are typically household ones, rather than the more robust models installed in schemes, but there is real value in ensuring that these dryers are checked, if only to assuage fears and provide a document record.
There have also been cases of small business fires being caused by these devices. We would therefore recommend, in the interest of resident safety and protecting your assets, that you communicate with your residents, leaseholders and commercial tenants, advising them to identify the make and model of their tumble dryer and contact the manufacturers, either by telephone on 0800 151 0905, or via the manufacturers websites.
In the interim, given that repair/replacement, the best advice is to always empty the Fluff/Lint Filter before every load, to never leave a tumble dryer running unless someone is in the home and awake and to ensure that the dryer is venting properly. Tumble dryer users should also be reminded that in the event of a fire, it will be electrical in nature, and they must not attempt to extinguish it with water.
These batteries, found in Phones, E-Cigarettes and laptops among other devices, have also been much in the media of late. The recent recall, and subsequent cancellation, of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 due to a problem with overheating and, on occasion, ignition of the batteries garnered widespread attention. While this is a particular issue with a particular brand, it is illustrative of the risk posed by even very slight flaws in the use or manufacturing of the Lithium-Ion Batteries which power the vast majority of our portable devices.
The inherent risk of this technology is considerably lower than that of its predecessors, and the risks that are present are well known and huge sums have been spent by manufacturers to engineer reductions in that risk. In fact it is probably reasonable to say that, with a handful of notable exceptions, the risk posed by these batteries has been exaggerated by the media.
As a general rule, these batteries can be considered to be unsafe if overcharged, overheated or in any way damaged. Manufacturers design their chargers to regulate the voltage to ensure the batteries are properly charged, and most devices also monitor heat generation to prevent overheating.
However, cheap replacement chargers sourced from unbranded suppliers or designed to charge other batteries may not charge Lithium-Ion batteries properly, should they operate at too high a voltage, or improperly regulate the charge, they can lead to overcharge. This can result in “venting with flame”. While this is technically a pressure release safety feature to prevent explosion, this still involves hot gas and potentially flames being expelled from the, now ruined, battery.
Many portable devices, such as smartphones & tablets are charged overnight by their users, where there is little chance of an immediate response. Even more pronounced is the risk of overcharging “E-cigarettes” which typically have very short recommended charge times ( some only a few hrs) and while many E-Cigarettes do prevent overcharge, it’s fair to say that this is a relatively new industry, and the majority of people would not know a “reputable” brand from a less safety conscious one. Charging one of these less well made E-Cigarette overnight would considerably increase the risk of overcharge and fire.
It is generally to be recommended that associations should remind residents of the risks involved with these cheap, non-brand chargers and of leaving devices to charge unattended, in particular cheaper E-cigarettes.
Despite the media attention these risks generate, they have actually resulted in relatively few fires so far. Only one percent of the fires recorded by our clients insurers from September 2011 to date have been attributed to this issue and they account for less than 1% of the cost. Despite this, the risk from these devices is growing as more and more of them are in use in our homes. After all, for the five years preceding September 2011, no such fires were noted.