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  • Graeme Warnell

How far does EV charging safety risk assessment go when installing EV charge posts?

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

I recently read an article regarding one organisations experience of installing EV charging into their staff car park.

It is important to remember that this constitutes a re-purposing of the car park to a use different to what it was originally designed for. It means different hazards or new risks that did not exist before should be reviewed and wherever possible mitigated.

When I saw the article, the question had been asked regarding “infrastructure challenges”, I got quite excited.

However, I was slightly disappointed but not surprised to see the infrastructure challenges never went beyond getting an electrical supply, providing the charging posts and installing them plus delineating some parking bays.

These charge points are within 1.0m of the outside wall of the offices which are part brick, part clad building and contained a row of windows, presumably with either staff working or storage behind them.

I would have hoped the infrastructure challenges that were reviewed would have included an assessment for the need to provide adequate fire suppression, not always for the use of staff but to potentially help the emergency services. In the event of an EV fire had anyone considered the combustibility of the cladding or burn time of the wall?

The ignition of the electrolyte gas can easily blow windows in and damage surrounding structures allowing the smoke and resulting fire to enter an adjacent building.

The charge points were also adjacent to an entrance / exit used by staff and customers. For staff or public safety was there a review of the fire risk assessment, including any amendments required to emergency exit routes, muster points of general awareness of the new potential hazards installed?

Please do not underestimate the toxicity of the smoke that can come from an EV fire. Hydrogen cyanide can be fatal and hydrogen fluoride can burn exposed skin and lung tissue. The release of highly explosive electrolyte gas from an EV fire that is not yet on fire presents a significant risk to employee and public safety, it may compromise the viability existing emergency escape routes.

If the emergency services have to attend had anyone considered where the fire water runoff will flow to, either below ground or above ground, or if it could be prevented from entering storm drains and the environment?

The issues seen with this installation are not unique and can be seen across a wide range of EV charge post installations in the UK.

It would be great to understand the hierarchy of decision making that comes into play when selecting the location of EV charge posts on a site, something that will become even more important if sites with a poor grid connection move to battery energy storage systems (BESS).

Are we installing charge posts in the best possible location or simply the easiest and cheapest location?

Recent incidents may provide us with better insight to such issues once the full fire investigations have been concluded. These include the burning down of electric bus depots in both Stuttgart and Utrecht and a fire at a Deutsche Post depot.

These challenges are not just restricted to EV vehicle charging but go hand in hand with an entire range of automation processes, especially in haulage and goods handling warehouses. Again, we have experience and leanings to take from the Ocado distribution centre fires in the UK.

In the event of an EV fire that could result in personal, property or environmental damage who takes responsibility. Do you look to the scheme designer? the installer? the service provider?

It is worth thinking upon these questions as you are expecting your EV charging posts will be running for a life-cycle of at least 7-10 years and a lot can happen in that time.

At EV-EXBOX we believe it is best to tackle these challenges as part of the installation plan and design as opposed to having to answer why they were not risk assessed as part of an accident investigation.

The installation of EV charging points is an essential part of our journey to cleaner energy and at EV-EXBOX we fully support this transition. However, the installation of EV charging is also a long-term financial commitment so please make sure proper risk assessments and the required risk mitigation is put into place as part of the design and install process to cover the new risks EV charging brings.

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