Lithium-ion batteries overheat

A near-miss in the Katz Building underscores the hazards of lithium-ion batteries.

19 November 2021

At approximately 8:30 pm on September 20, 2021, Facilities and Operations (F&O) workers noticed a strong smell of burnt rubber or plastic and saw smoke coming from a vent near the loading dock of the Katz Building. They were able to track the smell to a nearby storage closet and found a “Numatic” vacuum cleaner close to the vents with the lithium-ion battery melted.

If not for the quick actions taken by F&O staff, this could have resulted in a major fire in an important teaching and research facility. The loss could have been tremendous. 

After this incident was reported to HSE, Building Services reached out across F&O to suspend the use of vacuum cleaners with the same lithium-ion batteries and notified the manufacturer. 

Safety risks of lithium-ion batteries

The use of lithium-ion batteries is widespread, from cell phones to power tools to Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). They carry risks like any energy storing device such as overheating, fire, and explosion and are known to be more susceptible to damage. When using devices with lithium-ion batteries review the following safety considerations and best practices:

  • Carefully read and follow all manufacturer instructions and warnings.
  • Allow batteries to come to room temperature before charging them. Never attempt to charge batteries when temperatures are below freezing.
  • Do not exceed the recommended charging time.
  • Do not charge your device on soft surfaces as they can trap heat around the battery.
  • Use your battery charger in a place you can keep an eye on in case it overheats.
  • Use the charger that came with your device. If you need to buy or replace a charger, make sure the voltage and current are compatible with your device. Do not use uncertified chargers.
  • Make sure to use a charger that has one of the recognized Canadian certification marks, such as CSA, cUL or cETL as this means that the product is meeting the required Canadian electrical safety standards.
  • Do not attempt to repair a device containing a battery if it is not recommended by the manufacturer. Damage to a lithium-ion battery can be hazardous and may result in overheating, fire or explosions.
  • Batteries can catch fire or even explode when in contact with metal. Do not store batteries where they can touch metal, like coins or keys, such as in a pocket or handbag.
  • Lithium-ion batteries are classified as dangerous goods. If transporting them or sending them via mail or courier, follow TDG protocols.

Some lithium-ion batteries have been recalled. Please check with the manufacturer and supplier of your product and the batteries installed in the product for recall information or go to one of the websites listed in the Resources section to learn more. Report any issues or problems with the batteries to the manufacturer.