September 25, 2019
By: Stephen Kuscsik, Principal Engineer - Motor Operated & Radiant Heating Products
In recent years, UL has published a number of informative articles about the hazards of lithium button and coin cell batteries due to ingestion by children and the safety requirements that are available to reduce these risks. When it comes to safety, some messages bear repeating.
Lithium button and coin cell batteries offer power in a relatively small package, which has its advantages, but these batteries can also present significant risks for young children. Due to their size, loose button and coin cell batteries are easy for children to pick up and swallow or breath in. This can lead to severe injury or death within a short period of time due to choking or tissue damage from hydroxide generated when the battery is in contact with saliva. Most of these injuries occur in children under 4 years of age.
To help address this issue, UL 4200A, the Standard for Safety for Products Incorporating Button or Coin Cell Batteries of Lithium Technologies, was published in 2015. These requirements cover child accessible household type products that use button/coin cell batteries. As many small products, e.g., key fobs, greeting cards, and calculators, may not be covered under any safety standard, UL 4200A was written for broad coverage of any product with button/coin cells.
Since 2015, safety requirements for button and coin cell batteries have been directly implemented in UL Standards for safety related to lighting, appliance and HVAC products, with similar approaches taken with toys. The UL 4200A approach to the issue is to reduce children’s access to these batteries. This is accomplished by addressing battery security and physical robustness as well as informing of the safety risks via instructions and markings. As of April 2019, 25 UL product Standards directly refer to and require compliance with the safety requirements for button and coin cell batteries in UL 4200A.
Manufacturers as well as retailers play a role in continuing to improve safety. To help protect consumers and help ensure that your products are as safe as possible, manufacturers are encouraged to be proactive in meeting the UL 4200A requirements if their products contain these batteries. Safety measures may not always be immediately evident, and it is important for retailers to get involved to drive the change, ask manufacturers how they are ensuring safety and help reverse trends of ingestion incidents.
Finally, ensure that the following new, required warning is displayed on the product and is included in the safety instructions: “WARNING: Chemical Burn Hazard. Keep batteries away from children. See Manual.” However, some smaller products and products where the end-product standard allows for the use of symbols may display only the symbol.
Knowledge and awareness for industry professionals, consumers and even children are key to helping reduce these hazards. As part of UL’s public safety mission, the UL Xplorlabs™ program provides STEM based curriculum for hands-on learning. From cell phones to laptops and electric cars to hoverboards, portable electrical power and lithium-ion batteries are part of students’ lives every day. For additional information, click here.
One of the modules, “Portable Electrical Power” includes a segment using button/coin cell batteries to simulate the real hazards of ingestion. This and other Xplorlabs™ content is available to educators, parents, and others free of charge at https://ulxplorlabs.org/. For additional information click here or contact [email protected]