May 16, 2024

Dust Monitor Incident Prompts Alert on Battery Fire, Explosion Hazards

A safety alert issued recently by MSHA highlights the importance of protecting lithium battery-powered devices from unusual or excessive heat, stress, and impacts. The alert stems from an incident on April 11 in which a falling rock struck a continuous personal dust monitor that had been placed on top of a continuous mining machine. The impact caused the device to catch fire, and miners also reported an explosion before the flames extinguished. MSHA urges employers to train workers in the proper care and use of equipment powered by lithium batteries. The agency stresses that lithium batteries are a safe power source for handheld devices—including continuous personal dust monitors, handheld radios, and cell phones—when batteries are properly designed and manufactured, and when device users follow manufacturers’ instructions for storage, use, charging, and maintenance.

An earlier safety and health bulletin published in 2019 by OSHA provides additional information about preventing fire and explosion injuries from small and wearable devices powered by lithium batteries. OSHA agrees that lithium batteries are “generally safe and unlikely to fail” but cautions that they may present a fire or explosion hazard if they have design defects or are made of low-quality materials. Incorrect assembly, improper use or recharging, and damage, including from physical impact, may contribute to fire and explosion hazards related to lithium batteries, the agency explains.

Further information about lithium battery-powered devices in the workplace can be found in MSHA’s safety alert and OSHA’s safety and health bulletin (PDF).

Related: An article published in the January 2022 issue of The Synergist on protecting workers during the transition to electric vehicles includes a discussion of hazards related to lithium-ion batteries.