Major Swindon employer says e-scooter legalisation could spark house fire increase

By Barrie Hudson - 10 May 2022

BusinessCommunity

Zurich UK has stepped into the debate over the legalisation of e-scooters.

The firm, which has a major base at Swindon's Tri Centre, says experts warm that legalisation could lead to a rise in house fires caused by exploding lithium batteries. 

The newly-announced Transport Bill includes measures relating to private e-scooters which could see them cleared for legal use on UK roads.

Zurich is warning consumers to take care when buying and charging the devices following a spate of residential fires linked to lithium batteries, and is calling for more to be done to raise awareness of the risks.

The firm's Head of Property Claims, Alastair Thomson, said: “With e-scooter numbers growing rapidly, we need to consider consumer safety at home, as well as on the road. 

“Lithium battery blazes are already on the rise and it’s vital that people are aware of how they can safely store and charge the devices.

“Last year we saw multiple five-figure claims from battery blazes that left people’s homes damaged and possessions ruined. Lithium battery fires could become more frequent unless we do more to increase public awareness of the risks.

“We strongly urge people to buy accessories from reputable companies, follow manufacturer’s instructions on charging and avoid leaving batteries on charge when they leave the house.” 

Figures obtained by Zurich from the London Fire Brigade reveal its firefighters were called to 74 e-scooter and e-bike blazes in the capital last year, up from 28 in 2020 – a jump of 164 percent. London fire crews have already attended 30 blazes involving the vehicles this year.

Zurich has seen claims for lithium battery blazes triple over three years, with most caused by defective batteries, incorrect chargers and items being left on charge for too long. Third-party batteries which can be bought cheaply on the internet – and don’t always meet safety standards – are also to blame. 

Recent claims include an £83,000 payout after an e-bike went up in flames in a garage and another that exploded in a customer’s bedroom, causing £14,000-worth of damage.

London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Paul Jennings, said: “We have seen a rise in the number of fires involving e-bikes and e-scooters and it’s vital people are aware of the risks.

“These items are often stored and charged in escape routes in homes or communal areas so when a fire does occur, escape routes are blocked which immediately makes an already serious situation much more frightening.

“We know lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used. Many of these incidents involve batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.”

Louise Russell, a partner at Burgoynes, a leading firm of forensic investigators, said: “Whilst lithium ion batteries are generally safe, if they sustain a fault the result can be catastrophic.  To reduce the risk users should make sure they buy lithium ion batteries from reputable manufacturers, charge them with the correct adapter and in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and stop using them if they are damaged, wetted or are swollen. 

“Burgoynes have investigated many fires started by lithium ion batteries and we are seeing an increase in the frequency of such incidents.  In some cases people have become trapped in their properties due to the location chosen for charging batteries.  

"Given the potential for a sudden and rapidly developing fire from batteries, it is advisable to consider escape routes from buildings and not to charge batteries at the bottom of staircases or close to final exit doors.”

Last year, Zurich recorded several blazes caused by lithium batteries contained in household devices, including laptops, vapes and e-scooters.

These include a £60,000 claim involving a cordless vacuum cleaner that burst into flames and a £9,000 fire sparked by a remote-control aircraft which burned down a shed.

Zurich's Alastair Thomson added: “From laptops to mobile phones, lithium batteries are now so common in our homes it’s easy to overlook the hazards they pose, if not treated properly. 

"Although lithium battery blazes only make up a small proportion of fire claims, it’s important people remain aware of safety when charging up electronics.”  

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