Each May provides an opportunity to highlight how we can safely work with electricity. National Electrical Safety Month is an annual campaign spearheaded by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), which aims to educate people on how to reduce the number of electrical fires, fatalities, injuries, and associated property loss.
The theme of this year’s campaign is “Electrification: E-Mobility.” While there is no shortage of stories about electric vehicle (EV) and e-bike incidents in the news, the reality is that it is also a topic many Americans do not know a lot about. And with a lack of knowledge often comes a lack of safety. Many of the reported incidents likely could have been prevented had individuals been more aware of unsafe practices when using these products. This year’s National Electrical Safety Month campaign addressing e-mobility safety provides a great opportunity to spread more safety awareness in this area, and NFPA® has many resources to help accomplish this goal.
E-bikes: The news story vs the full picture
Electromobility, also known as e-mobility, uses specific technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, to provide electric propulsion of electric vehicles, e-bikes, and various other means of mobile transportation. Incidents involving e-bikes are regularly in the news and a high concentration of those happen to be in New York City, an area with a dense population and significant use of e-bikes for delivery jobs and general travel around the city. What often gets relayed as part of the newscast is a description of the incident itself and a connection to the lithium-ion batteries that propel these e-bikes. What isn’t always communicated is the human factor that can lead to many of these incidents and, more importantly, ways in which individuals can begin to safely charge and utilize e-bikes to prevent further incidents.
As of early April, New York City had reported 59 total e-bike–related fires this year, 5 of which had been fatal. To add perspective, there were 6 total fatalities due to e-bike–related fires in all of 2022. One recent incident involved two youths that perished because an e-bike was being charged near the building entrance, and when a fire involving the device erupted, the exit was blocked.
Since the onset of these tragic e-bike events, NFPA has been proactive in trying to educate e-bike users to ensure that they know the best ways to utilize these products in a manner that maintains their personal safety, as well as the safety of others. In fact, NFPA put together a webpage with safety information around e-bikes and e-scooters to help spread awareness.
Watch a related video about e-bike and e-scooter fire safety from NFPA Journal®.
Here, individuals can find great resources such as answers to frequently asked questions, videos, and a downloadable e-bike safety tip sheet that is available in both English and Spanish. NFPA staff are also working to be safety advocates by spreading messaging around the lithium-ion batteries that power most e-bikes. At a recent NFPA staff event, a panel of several staff members who specialize in fire protection, electrical safety, and research discussed recent incidents and the safe use of lithium-ion batteries. Many in the audience expressed that they learned something valuable about how to be safer when charging their personal lithium-ion powered devices. NFPA technical services engineer Brian O’Connor also provided a recent interview to CBS News New York to help spread the word to the public on how e-bike lithium-ion batteries work and the safety precautions that users should take.
EVs: Building a safe charging infrastructure
Electric vehicles (EVs) are another means of e-mobility transportation that are very much in the public spotlight. There is a clear shift taking place among major automotive manufacturers worldwide from production of vehicles with internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. There are also significant financial investments being made by the government to build an electrical charging infrastructure that can support the increase in the number of EVs that are projected to reach the pavement in the near future.
A primary step in bettering the EV charging infrastructure happens when it is initially built. But another key component that shouldn’t be overlooked is the continued maintenance of the charging infrastructure. Both the initial installation and continued maintenance are areas where NFPA is able to help ensure safety. Article 625 in the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) provides requirements that will help to ensure a safe electrical vehicle charging installation. Some of the requirements revolve around a personal protection system, properly sizing branch circuits that power the EV charger, and utilizing ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection for receptacles that power EV chargers.
RELATED: NFPA also has resources to help firefighters train for responding to incidents involving electric vehicles. Learn more at nfpa.org/ev.
From a maintenance standpoint, Chapter 33 of NFPA 70B, Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, addresses electric vehicle charging systems. Within this chapter, users can find information on the necessary frequency and documentation of maintenance and the procedures that should be taken when maintenance is performed. With NFPA 70B changing from a recommended practice to a standard in January of 2023, governments and municipalities now have the ability to enforce the maintenance requirements of NFPA 70B regarding the electrical charging infrastructure being installed within their particular areas. With the high level of use that EV chargers will see on a daily basis, continued maintenance will be paramount to ensuring that EV chargers remain safe for consumers to use.
Embracing the electric future
Since the beginning of human history, there has been a constant development of new technologies that drive our means of travel—for example, shoes (7th millennium BC), the domestication of the horse and invention of the wheel (3500 BC), the bicycle (1816), and the Ford Model T automobile (1908). These were all significant developments in means of travel that we still use today.
Although electric vehicles are at the forefront of developing travel technologies today, using electricity for powering means of transportation actually dates back to the early 19th century, when using electricity to power locomotives and boats was being explored. Continued technological advancements over time, such as the development of lithium-ion batteries, has provided an opportunity to explore new transportation options within the e-mobility realm. While the advancements in the technologies used for transportation have a wide variance over time, one commonality is that, in all applications of those technologies, there was a learning curve that had to be overcome to utilize the new technology safely.
We are still learning how to use e-mobility products like e-bikes and EVs safely. ... It is important that we all continue to gain knowledge around how to safely use them and then continue to share that knowledge with others.
It is hard to imagine that it took very long after the wheel was invented to determine it was a bad idea to leave your foot under it while it was rolling. This may sound like a silly example because it seems just common sense to us nowadays, but someone had to learn the danger from trial and error and then share their findings with others so that they didn’t make the same mistake. In that same regard, we are still learning how to use e-mobility products like e-bikes and EVs safely.
The reality is we often fear most that which we do not understand. As we work through determining how best to incorporate these e-mobility products into our everyday lives, it is important that we all continue to gain knowledge around how to safely use them and then continue to share that knowledge with others. National Electrical Safety Month is a great opportunity for all of us to start doing just that.
For quick tips on how to use e-mobility devices more safely, please consider downloading the NFPA E-bike and E-scooter Safety tip sheet in English or Spanish, as well as our Lithium-Ion Battery Safety sheet.