Plugged into Safety: A primer on the hazards of working with battery electric vehicles

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6 Plugged into Safety: A primer on the hazards of working with battery electric vehicles | March 2024 Learning From Others AUTO RECYCLERS: SEARCHING FOR A CLEAR AND SAFE PATH FORWARD TO KEEP A VITAL ECOSYSTEM SAFE Steve Fletcher, Executive Director of Ontario Automotive Recycling Association, says when they polled members, they found that only two-thirds were actually "touching EV batteries." He thought it was an economic decision but learned that safety concerns drove their resistance. "Many owners said, 'I'm a small family- operated business serving my community. I don't want to put my employees at risk with something we don't understand yet. We really need to figure that out before I feel confident in allowing my staff to touch these things.'" OARA represents 100 working recyclers in Ontario and another 50 associate members in the recycling ecosystem. Fletcher says the entry of BEVs in the marketplace is accelerating, and there is a level of resistance because there isn't a clear path forward. "Some members look for the information they need, and others just don't have the resources to do that. Because of the ecosystem we have in place, they are constantly talking to one another – sharing info about how they're managing issues. Sometimes this is great, and sometimes they share unreliable resources." Fletcher says they need a formalized standard and corresponding resources to give members and the industry the confidence and competence to move forward safely. "Our stakeholders want clarity. I'm getting pressure from members to figure out how to deal with end-of-life and damaged batteries. We don't have all the tools and resources to guide a member through it, so our job is to educate them and connect them with organizations like WSPS." ATS: EV BATTERIES PRESENT A TRIFECTA OF HAZARDS When Blaine Cressman, Senior HSE Specialist, joined ATS Industrial Automation in 2022, there was a lot of excitement about the significant opportunity that EV battery work presented. However, they were in new territory from a health and safety standpoint. "It's very rare to have a truly new hazard show up in the workplace," he says. ATS classifies batteries in the same high-risk category as robots, laser safety, and rigging practices. Cressman emphasizes, "They are a significant hazard. They are dangerous and can cause a lot of harm. When mishandled, an event with a battery is truly a nightmare. It is a trifecta of hazards – thermal, electrical and chemical." ATS had difficulty finding information about battery safety procedures. "Most of what we found was focused on the physics and mechanics of how batteries function – not how humans interact with them." Given that this is a new hazard and so little health and safety information is available, he says ATS is setting its own standards and adjusting as they learn. "We're slapping the tracks down in front of the train as it goes 100 mph down the track. Every time we have a conversation, new scenarios come up that we weren't expecting, so we have to tweak and refine. Almost every week, we're adjusting and refining and getting closer to something we're happy with."

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