Lithium-ion Battery Fire Risk for Forklift Trucks

In a recent report by QBE, UK Fire Safety Services attended 46% more fires linked to lithium-ion batteries in 2023 compared with the previous year. Nearly a third of lithium-ion battery fires involved e-bikes and 33% increase involved electric cars.

Lithium-ion Battery Fire Risk for Forklift Trucks

Considering there are over a million electric cars on the British roads, this is a relatively low percentage of 0.01% and could be due to the increase in the number of electric cars on the road compared to 2022. You might have heard about the number of electric buses catching fire on London  roads but again this is relatively low percentage compared with the number of electric buses on the roads. London has the highest number of electric buses compared to any other city in Europe.

The number of lithium-ion powered forklift trucks has been increasing in recent years. However, we have no statistics on the number of forklift trucks catching fire. However, our readers may find it interesting to learn about the causes and prevention of fires on electric forklift trucks.

Causes of Lithium-ion Battery Powered Forklift Truck Catching Fire

Lithium-ion powered forklift trucks may catch fire if the battery cell creates more heat than it can dissipate, leading to uncontrolled release of heat energy or runaway, resulting in fires or explosion. Thermal runaway can result in the release of flammable and toxic gases. These may ignite immediately, or they may disperse unignited, until they come into contact with an ignition source, resulting in an explosion. Although lithium-ion battery fires are relatively rare, they can be very difficult to extinguish.

The most likely causes of thermal runaway are:

  • Physical damage to the battery
  • Chemical damage to the battery
  • Over charging / over discharging
  • Defective manufacture
  • Overheating

Preventative measures to minimise the risk of Forklift Truck Lithium-ion battery fires include:

  • Only use the correct charger and always buy forklift batteries from the Original Equipment Manufacturer or a reputable source.
  • The forklift truck charging area should be in a separate, well ventilated fire compartment with at least 60 minutes fire separation.
  • Charging areas should be located adjacent to an exterior wall, which can be accessed from the outside and has easy exit in the event of an emergency.
  • Automatic fire detection should be provided within the forklift truck charging area.
  • Provide portable fire extinguishers like the Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion, as they are specifically designed to combat lithium battery fires.
  • Safety signage should be provided to identify the area where Lithium-ion Forklift truck battery charging is undertaken.
  • A plan of the building indicating the location of the lithium-ion forklift truck battery charging area should be made available to the Fire Service in the event of an emergency.
  • Ensure suitable and sufficient risk assessments are undertaken in relation to the fire hazards and all forklift truck activities.
  • Battery chargers should be fixed to secure non-combustible walls.
  • Batteries should always be charged on a hard, flat, stable surface.
  • Allow batteries to cool down after use and before attempting to recharge them.
  • Always maintain a clear space of at least 2 metres around the charging units and the forklift truck on charge.
  • Ensure there are no combustibles within the vicinity
  • Hatched floor markings can assist to define the charging area.
  • To minimise the risk of damage, cables and connectors should be raised off the floor and should be suitably fire safety grade.
  • Ensure the forklift truck, battery, and charger are inspected and maintained in line with manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Incorporate visual inspections of the forklift truck, batteries, chargers, cables, and connectors into weekly/monthly workplace inspections, and document the results.
  • Immediately remove damaged or malfunctioning batteries from the building, to a suitable remote location outside. Disposal to be undertaken by specialist waste contractors.
  • Relevant persons to be appropriately trained in the safe use, hazards, handling, charging and storage of Lithium-ion batteries and forklift trucks, and emergency procedures.
  • In the unlikely event of a lithium-ion battery fire breaking out, evacuate the building and call the emergency services.

Most of the above list is from Griffiths & Armour.

Ruth Wallace of Forklift Training London says “Lithium-ion battery powered forklift trucks are increasing their market share and are inherently safe to use. However, like most large vehicles, it is important that you pay particular attention to all the safety aspects. You must ensure that the battery does not get damaged and if damaged stop using it immediately”.

Useful Links

Wallace School of Transport including Forklift Training in London is a fully accredited RTITB company with over 60 years’ experience. You can be trained either at your own work site or at Wallace Centre in Park Royal. If you have any questions, call Wallace Forklift Training on 020 8453 3440, choose option 3 or click here to email us.


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