E-Scooter fires – Reduce your risk in strata

22 March 2024


They are cheap to run, convenient and fun but e-bikes and e-scooters are also posing a hazard and potential headache for strata buildings. Often stored and charged indoors, they pose a serious fire risk when their lithium-ion batteries are damaged, overcharged or overheated.

According to NSW Fire and Rescue, these lithium-ion battery fires are on the increase, with 22 per cent of fires related to micro-mobility devices such as e-bikes, e-scooters and e-skateboards. A number of these fires have created significant risks for occupants.

“They can go onto what we call ‘thermal runaway’, a process involving a chemical reaction within the battery whereby a large volume of toxic and flammable vapour is emitted over a very short period of time…we are talking seconds,” the NSW Fire and Rescue spokesperson said.

“We recommend that these batteries only be charged in an area away from living spaces and away from where people sleep, such as a garage or carport on a concrete floor with no combustible materials around.”

“Devices should not be left on charge continuously. Residents should be aware of cheap, substandard lithium-powered devices and only buy reputable brands.”

What is safe and what is not?

Calls by some strata bodies for outright bans on the use of battery-charged devices are unlikely to be successful given how common these devices have become, according to NSW Fair Trading.

They have reminded consumers to ensure they are purchasing e-scooters and e-bikes that have an approved compliance mark that meets Australian safety standards.

“It is an inherent feature of strata living that residents’ activities and behaviour directly affect the amenities and safety of other residents,” said a spokesperson from NSW Fair Trading.

There are two types of e-bikes permitted in NSW. These are power-assisted pedal cycles and electrically power-assisted cycles. Both models allow the rider to propel the bikes and must not be solely powered by the motor.

There are several other criteria to ensure such bikes are safe on Australian roads.

According to Transport NSW, power-assisted pedal cycles must have one or more motors attached with a combined output of 200 watts. They must weigh less than 50kgs (including the battery) and have a height-adjusted seat.

An electrically powered-assisted cycle has a maximum continued rate powered up to 500 watts. The power output must be progressively reduced as the bicycle speed increases beyond 6km/h. It must cut off if the bicycle reaches a speed of 25km/h and when the rider stops pedalling and the speed exceeds 6km/h.

An e-scooter trial is currently underway in Council areas such as Albury, Forster-Tuncurry and Armidale, however, personal e-scooters remain illegal on roads and in areas including footpaths, shared paths and bicycle tracks, and can only be used on private property. E-skateboards can also only be used on private property.

Ben Cabello from Strata Embassy believes the Government needs to do more to ensure the safety of apartment building residents, just as it did with combustible cladding. He believes the micro-mobility devices sector needs more regulation covering models, brands and charging.

“The councils using e-bikes or e-scooters would have done their research and invested in a quality product, however, the average young person or Uber delivery rider is more likely to buy a cheaper one,” said Mr Cabello, a member of the REINSW Strata Management Chapter Committee.

“People take them into their apartments to charge at night, which not only poses a risk but also raises the question of insurance. Who is responsible should there be a fire?”

Keeping Strata Buildings Safe

Ensuring the safety of strata buildings is paramount, especially with the increasing popularity of e-bikes and e-scooters. Here are some key strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Educational Outreach – Body Corporates to initiate an education campaign on the potential risks of storing and charging e-bikes and e-scooters.
  2. Appropriate Charging Areas - Encourage residents to charge their scooters and bikes in well-ventilated areas, away from combustible materials.
  3. Use of Approved Chargers - Emphasise the importance of using only manufacturer-approved chargers. Non-compliant chargers may pose safety risks.
  4. Unplugging Lithium Batteries - Remind residents to unplug lithium batteries once charging is complete. Overcharging can lead to safety hazards, and this simple practice can reduce the risk of potential fires.

Should body corporates have rulings in place?

Some buildings have adopted by-laws in an attempt to manage the charging of e-bikes or e-scooters from apartments or to reduce the potential hazards.

Organisations such as the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) have come up with a by-law template as well as devising a ‘code of conduct’. Among their stipulations are that devices and equipment must come from reputable manufacturers, and only use chargers supplied with the device or from a certified third party. In the interest of fire safety, an owner or occupier must be present while devices are being charged and avoid charging them overnight.

Wenna Wu, Founder and CEO of Strata Evolution and member of the REINSW Strata Management Chapter Committee, said body corporates and strata managers are debating the topic.

She wants to see owners, body corporates and strata managers be better educated on the inherent risk when they have such vehicles and machinery contained within their premises. This includes the potential hazard of people buying second-hand items or off-market chargers that are not properly vetted for compliance.

“Young people often move into an apartment straight after living with their mum and dad and they are not aware of the potential consequences of some of their actions and the heavy damage they could do to the building or themselves,” said Ms Wu.

Is extra coverage needed?

Many insurers have yet to incorporate specific exclusions or conditions relating to the charging and storage of such bikes or scooters.

Strata managers and body corporates are encouraged to check with their insurance companies to see what they can do to mitigate risk and how storage could impact future premiums.

Paul Kwiecien from CHU Underwriting Agencies said banning or restricting e-bikes, e-scooters or e-skateboards would be difficult for strata buildings to enforce. They have just released guidelines, aimed at reducing the danger of lithium-ion batteries in strata properties, which are available to view on the CHU website.

“The reality is these e-bikes are everywhere, so from an insurance perspective they are an increased exposure, like using gas bottles on private balconies for barbecues - there is a risk but it is difficult to stop people using them,” he said.

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