EV charging stations – are you managing the fire risk?

Risk Matters - Summer 2024

Local governments across WA are installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, either investing or partnering with other organisations such as the RAC to improve amenity for EV owners. In recent years, WA motorists have accelerated their adoption of EV and hybrids which use lithium-ion batteries for power. In the wake of increasing carbon emissions and skyrocketing fuel prices, our members have also started investing in electric vehicles as part of their motor fleet.

While this trend is encouraging, it presents new and unidentified risks associated with managing such vehicles. Local governments need to give consideration to these risks in their facilities whether they’ll be for staff or community use, and also where EV charging stations are installed whether they’ll be at member owned and/ or run facilities or planning approval provided for their installation.

LGIS’ recently released property conservation guideline ‘Electric Vehicle Charging Areas’ helps members incorporate good practices when considering the installation of EV charging facilities within their premises and other assets. The guide should also be considered by planning departments in the development of appropriate policies and procedures for planning approval.

According to Electric Vehicle Council, July 2023 report ‘State of Electric Vehicles’, 8.4% of all new cars sold in 2023 so far have been EVs. This is more than a 120% increase compared to all of 2022.

Lithium-ion batteries, used in these electric vehicles, pose specific challenges when it comes to fighting fires. They can take a long time to control and extinguishment is not always complete. The battery’s overall energy density can give rise to re-ignition, well after the initial fire is thought to be extinguished.

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Managing the risks of EV charging stations

The guide provides general information regarding fire prevention and protection for electrical vehicle charging areas.
  • Install chargers in areas that emergency services can easily access, preferably close to garage entrances, and avoid installation in lower levels of garages.
  • Spacing between charging points should provide sufficient space for parking and the charging process.
  • Outdoor or indoor, the recommended distance from combustible materials is 10 metres.
  • Accessibility should always be discussed with the emergency services/fire brigade before implementation.

Electrical installation

  • Charging systems should be installed by a certified/ authorised company.
  • Electrical circuits should be dedicated to the chargers, separated from the general main, and fitted with circuit breakers and surge protection.

Inspection and maintenance

  • Ensure that manufacturer instructions regarding usage and maintenance are followed.
  • Complete and record regular inspections on the chargers and supporting equipment.
  • On detection of any damaged or malfunctioning chargers, cables, connectors, etc., the chargers should be shut off, locked, and labelled as ‘OUT OF SERVICE’ until it has been repaired and recertified.

Fire protection

  • Ensure a complete fire strategy/pre-fire plan is in place, reviewed by, and agreed to by the emergency services.
  • This plan should be practiced and updated at least annually.

Fire prevention

  • The site and emergency plans should include the locations of all chargers, any electrical shut-off points, access routes, containment areas, etc.
  • The electrical shut-off points should be marked and labelled. They should be remotely located from the charging areas they control.

Case study: Poorly maintained EV charger damages vehicle

It is vital that EV charging stations are appropriately maintained. Issues with charging stations and electric vehicles is an emerging concern, and LGIS is starting to see an increase in claims.

In this case, a member of the public plugged their vehicle into a free charging station provided by the local government. They alleged that the charger registered a phase error and caused damage to the on- board charger. Repairs to the vehicle where just over $3,000.

Following investigation of the claim, it was discovered that the member was aware that there was a fault with the charging cable. Due to the member having prior knowledge of the issue and failing to take steps to mitigate the risk, the claim was settled.

Lessons learned:

Members should ensure that a risk assessment is done prior to providing new services to the community. Any new service should only be provided once appropriate mitigation policies and procedures are implemented and understood by all staff responsible. The EV charging station guide provides advice on assessment for these high risk assets. In this instance, the loss was only $3000 but if the loss event extrapolated to a major lithium-ion fire spread, the losses could be catastrophic.

When the local government becomes aware of an issue, it should be addressed as soon as practicable. In this example the charging station could have been marked as ‘out of order’ to make sure it wasn’t used by the public until the issue had been fixed

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