If your employees wear small, wearable devices powered by lithium batteries – such as body cameras – they are potentially at risk from burns or other injuries if the devices catch fire or explode. Those outcomes may occur if the batteries are defective or become damaged. There were more than 25,000 overheating or fire incidents involving lithium battery-powered consumer products over a recent five-year-period, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Status Report on High Energy Density Batteries Project. Lithium-metal batteries are generally used to power devices such as watches, calculators, temperature data loggers, car key fobs, and defibrillators.

Many consumer products have practical applications in small and large businesses. Workers who wear or frequently handle lithium-powered devices or batteries are particularly at risk if a lithium battery catches fire or explodes since the device or battery is close to the body.

To address this hazard, OSHA has issued a new bulletin that gives employers guidance on how to prevent injury by understanding a lithium-powered device’s basic function, hazards, and safe use.

Why use lithium batteries?

Small and wearable electronic devices used in workplaces rely on a power source that stores a high amount of energy in a small space (i.e., high energy density). Lithium cells provide sustained power and often have the capability to recharge. When designed, manufactured, and used properly, lithium batteries are a safe, high energy density power source for devices in the workplace.

The risks of lithium batteries

While lithium batteries are normally safe, they may cause injury if they have design defects, are made of low quality materials, are assembled incorrectly, are used or recharged improperly, or are damaged.

How does damage occur?

Damage to lithium batteries can occur immediately or over a period of time, from physical impact, exposure to certain temperatures, and/or improperly charging lithium-ion batteries.

Incident prevention

Workplace injuries from lithium battery defects or damage are preventable. Click here for OSHA’s guide to Preventing Fire and/or Explosion Injury from 
Small and Wearable Lithium Battery Powered Devices.

Additional resources:

OSHA Fire Safety and Health Topics Page
OSHA Hazard Communication Safety and Health Topics Page
OSHA Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool
OSHA Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs
OSHA Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory Program
Consumer Product Safety Commission Batteries Topic Page
Status Report on High Energy Density Batteries Project, February 12, 2018
Department of Energy, "How Does a Lithium-ion Battery Work?"
NFPA Lithium Ion Batteries Hazard and Use Assessment
NFPA Safety Tip Sheet: Lithium Ion Batteries
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – Safe Travel, Batteries
2019 Lithium Battery Guidance Document - IATA