Mitigating the fire risk from charging electric vehicles

This is the first article of 'Inside Risk', a new series of quick-read insights covering the intricacies of risk. Created by Lockton's Risk Control Services team, Inside Risk breaks down high-level concepts into digestible and informational content.

The demand for electric vehicles (EVs) continues to grow for both private and commercial users. As such, there is an increasing need to provide additional infrastructure to enable convenient, rapid, and safe charging of EVs for staff and the public. Recent experience has demonstrated fires involving EVs can burn for an extended period of time and present significant challenges when attempting final extinguishment. Property protection principles should be considered in the design and location of EV charging points to help limit the effects of fire to property, business, and environment.  

Fire risk 

EVs such as cars, vans and motorbikes are now a familiar site on our roads and in car parks, driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions. Building owners or occupiers now need to actively consider the provision of infrastructure for the charging of EVs. For example, buildings in England undergoing construction or renovation will likely need to include installation of EV charging points (Approved Document S, 2021, HM Government (opens a new window)). The provision of EV charging points in parking areas will likely become the norm, rather than the exception.  

An electrical infrastructure for EV charging introduces new risks. Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used within EV store energy in a high density and, in event of a fire or thermal runaway, can result in a significant fire or explosion which is exceedingly difficult to control. In some cases, fires have occurred days after an incident. 

In addition, car components have changed over the last few decades with the wider use of plastic in the car body, interior and fuel tank. This increases the fire load and potential for fire spread in both EVs and those powered by internal combustion engines. A fire involving one or more vehicles can result in a significant fire challenge, particularly inside of buildings.  

Mitigating the risk 

Where the provision of EV charging is being considered or has already been installed, the property fire risks should be carefully identified, assessed, and managed in collaboration with your broker and insurer.  Key considerations include: 

  • Risk assessment – ensure compliance with fire safety legislation. Consider the risk of fire from charging EVs to the property and business enterprise. 

  • Location – external locations are preferred, a good distance from buildings and essential infrastructure. Also consider where additional EV chargers may be located in future and plan infrastructure to maintain distances from buildings. Avoid installations close to buildings, particularly those with combustible features. Where it is not possible to provide external facilities and internal charging areas are planned, consider measures to reduce the potential loss such as detached single storey structures or providing fire rated compartmentation within buildings. Provide adequate space separation between vehicles. Consider locations which provide easy access to responding fire brigades.  

  • Fire protection – review the fire protection strategy considering that lithium-ion batteries can result in a jet fire typically 2-3m in length with a subsequent fire that can burn for a long time, producing large quantities of smoke and toxic gases. For internal structures, best practice would be to provide sprinklers to a code accepted by property insurers. Other considerations include fire detection, manual fire water provision, and suitable emergency response procedures.  

  • Charging equipment – ensure chargers are installed, used, and maintained to local standards and manufacturer guidelines. Do not use faulty equipment.  

  • Housekeeping – keep combustible materials clear of charging areas. 

  • Business continuity management – ensure the business continuity management system is updated with plans and mitigation measures implemented accordingly.  

  • Management – keep management systems in place to ensure the chargers are used and maintained in accordance with manufacturer guidelines and all loss prevention controls are established and maintained.  

The introduction of EV charging facilities introduces new property fire risks to a business enterprise, notably the potential for significant, long duration fires. When considering the installation of EV charging facilities, consult with your broker and insurer for advice on appropriate property protection strategies.  

For further information, please visit the Lockton Risk Control page (opens a new window), or contact:  

Mark Middleton 

Risk Management Executive 

+44 207 933 1632

mark.middleton@lockton.com 

Further resources from the Fire Protection Association: 

FPA. RC59:  Recommendations for fire safety when charging electric vehicles. Version 2. 2023.  https://www.thefpa.co.uk/resource-download/360 (opens a new window). Accessed 25/10/2023. 

Resources on related topics include:   

FPA. RC11:  Recommendations for fire safety in the use of lift trucks. Version 5. 2014 https://www.thefpa.co.uk/resource-download/320 (opens a new window). Accessed 25/10/2023. 

FPA. RE1:  Battery energy storage systems: commercial lithium-ion battery installations. Version 1. 2022.  https://www.thefpa.co.uk/resource-download/626 (opens a new window). Accessed 25/10/2023. 

FPA. RE2:  Lithium-ion battery use and storage. Version 1. 2023.  https://www.thefpa.co.uk/resource-download/629 (opens a new window). Accessed 25/10/2023.

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Mitigating the fire risk from charging electric vehicles

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