The debate rages on about which is better: battery or internal combustion engines; however, litigation, mandates, and popularity among certain demographics are pushing towards a battery-powered future.
Equipment dealers need to start thinking about how battery-operated equipment will impact their dealerships – particularly the outdoor power equipment dealers – to stay ahead of the curve.
This starts with making sure manufacturers provide instructions and communications to inform customers of the proper care and safety handling for each unique high-voltage battery.
“I think as an Association, and myself previously being a dealer, we have to really ask these manufacturers for more, and I know Joe Dykes is working with OPEI trying to get answers,” said Dale Magie, part of the dealer development team at the Dealer Institute. “Because there’s not enough information and answers out there on these products coming out. It’s a push across the country from autos right on down through all equipment. I think it’s a gorilla in the room for outdoor power equipment.”
Magie’s primary focus at Dealer Institute and through NAEDA is within the Outdoor Power Equipment sector. Along with others, he has found that the safety protocols for handling batteries are not as in-depth as dealers need. Even though batteries have been seen in smaller equipment like weed trimmers and leaf blowers for over a decade, this is slowly moving towards equipment such as lawnmowers and eventually much larger pieces of machinery.
In addition to the growth in popularity of battery-powered lawn equipment, municipalities within cities are starting to set regulations mandating electric mowers and more. State legislation could be close behind.
“Change is going to continue to occur,” Magie said. “Obviously, if you’ve been in business, you know that change is always a part of every day, every year, every week. As a dealer, you have got to be proactive and be accepting to change by looking for the best avenues to maximize the change. As government mandates continue to come out, this category is going to grow; it’s not just about using the association to get ourselves educated, and it’s up to working with the manufacturers to come up with the best business plan we can for how this affects their dealerships moving forward.”
For example, one of the six batteries used to power a EGO Power+ 42” Z6 Turn Riding lawnmower is 56 volts. Because OSHA defines a high-voltage battery as 50v or more, this puts each of those six batteries in that category
Large manufacturers like John Deere are also taking the leap into electric. By 2026, they plan to have a battery-powered option for each of their riding lawnmowers; therefore, precautions as a dealer and owner will be necessary. That starts with manufacturers being transparent about their batteries and providing protocols to the equipment dealers selling these products.
“The small, handheld equipment has been pretty much uniform. It’s not really a concern in comparison to the bigger ride-on products, and the even bigger products coming out,” Magie said. “It’s knowing the products that you’re bringing in – what the chemistry of that battery is – because that adds variables as well to the safety protocol.”
Lawnmowers are the beginning of these higher voltage batteries. Companies like Soletrac are releasing tractors that use 72v. The risk of electric shock or fire increases with these larger batteries – not to mention the heavier batteries will require proper lifting techniques and potentially, a forklift.
“I would recommend that you know what the manufacturer can supply you with the information you need to make the best decision on what safety protocols need to be in place when bringing in this category of equipment,” Magie said. “Because, in a lot of cases, dealerships need to do some enhancements to their facilities before they truly stock battery-operated products… We’re continuing to work with the manufacturers and KPA (safety and compliance team) on trying to get better systems in place.”
Equipment dealerships need to start preparing for this inevitable shift by taking the steps to ensure the best safety practices for handling, storing and shipping batteries that could be so large that they will need teams or forklifts to move them.
Regardless of a dealership’s manufacturer, dealers need to focus on a few things:
- Potential Risks
- Safety Precautions
- Employee Training
NAEDA and KPA hosted an on-demand webinar focusing on “Creating a Safe & Compliant Li-Ion Workplace” which took place Monday, May 8.
Mitigating and Planning for Potential Risks
The risks related to handling lithium-ion batteries are very similar to that of combustion engines but require some early interventions and plans. They should create a foundation for safety which includes:
- Hazard Assessments
- Hazard Communication Programs
- Hazard Communication Employee Training
- Emergency Plans and Evacuation Maps
- Emergency Response Training
- Chemical Inventory, Safety Data Sheets, and Platform Training
- Forklift Operator, Lift Safety, and DOT Hazmat for those who will be shipping these batteries
Analyzing these risks is just the start. Once a dealership has established its hazard assessments, they need to start purchasing the appropriate material to avoid injury and be prepared for any fires or shocks along the way.
Taking Safety Precautions
Safety precautions can be taken in the form of the physical environment as well as with protective equipment.
Protective equipment includes insulated tools with rubber grips, electrician rubber gloves, and leather gloves to wear over them. Each of these items help prevent potential electrical shock.
In addition to the gloves, the dealership and technicians will need to have a glove inflator to check for air leaks daily. If air can get into the glove, then so can electricity. Making sure they are airtight will make sure technicians are safe from shock.
Electrician gloves must also be electrostatically tested every six months by a certified lab to ensure that the gloves prevent electricity from moving across their non-permeable barrio.
The leather gloves protect the rubber and make them last longer. Still, some dealerships might consider getting Arc Flash full-body protective equipment in case of extremely high-voltage batteries.
Another safety precaution includes physical storage of the batteries on site. Many brand-new batteries are low risk, but used batteries pose a higher threat.
Ensure your dealership has a specific location to store batteries in a well-ventilated, regulated space away from other equipment.
Defective batteries in thermal runaway release a form of gas that can cause fires or other disastrous situations, so all employees must be aware of what damaged or defective batteries look like.
Teaching employees the calling signs for damaged batteries will help mitigate the risk of shock and fire.
Three types of battery damage:
- Mechanical: when the battery is physically compromised by being crushed, dropped, penetrated, etc.
- Thermal: this can be the result of faulty cell design, cell manufacturing flaws, external abuse of cells, in-efficient battery package design, or inadequate charging system design
- Electrical abuse: a common mistake made is leaving certain batteries on the charger past their full charge. This can cause failure within the circuits and should be avoided for specific types of batteries. It is suggested that owners read the user manual to know whether their battery can be on the charger longer or not.
In addition to knowing the types of battery damage, seeing early signs of failure can also help reduce risks.
Early signs of failure can include physical deterioration to the point of thermal runaway, a change in batter charging efficiency, battery heating to unseen temperatures during charging – particularly near the end of a charging cycle, and the charging capacity is higher than the amount of energy used before needing a new charge.
Because battery failure can lead to fires, keeping a fire extinguisher nearby is a good idea. The thing about electric fires versus those of a combustion engine is that they do not go out in a traditional way.
Electric fires tend to reignite with little warning, so a common practice is to initially extinguish the flames to then be able to move the battery to a designated battery burn location that is outside and away from any other combustible material. Once in a safe location, the battery could then be allowed to burn itself out.
Once the fire is out, or even if a battery has been determined to be a failure, the next step is to dispose of the now useless item.
One thing dealers, technicians, or individuals should not do with their failed batteries is throw them away. This can cause fires on the dump truck, landfills and anywhere in-between.
Cirba Solutions has created a recycling process for high-voltage batteries. There are two protocols.
The first is for non-damaged batteries. Suppose your dealership is looking to send back batteries that were the wrong order. In that case, they can purchase a collection container from Cirba Solutions, tape the terminals to prevent short circuits, place the batteries in the purchased container, and ship as normal.
For damaged batteries, dealerships can purchase containers that range from $86-275 USD. They can then line the container with a provided bag, seal each battery in its own anti-static bag, cover with the provided packaging material, secure the lid, seal it within the overpack box, and attach the appropriate label.
Article by Amanda Bauman, Associate Editor at Equipment Dealer Magazine