Government urged to crack down on ‘faulty’ e-bikes as fires hit record high in London

A record 128 e-bike fires and 26 e-scooter fires have been recorded in 2023 so far, more than in the whole of 2022, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Aftermath of an e-bike blaze (credit LFB)
Aftermath of an e-bike blaze (credit LFB)

London Fire Brigade (LFB) has urged the government to crack down on online sales of dodgy e-bike batteries and ‘conversion kits’.

Responding to a government consultation on product safety, LFB warned that e-bike fires remain the capital’s fastest growing fire risk – and that tougher action was needed at a national level to combat them.

So far in 2023, the brigade has attended a record 128 e-bike fires and 26 e-scooter fires. This compares with 87 e-bike fires and 29 e-scooter fires in the whole of 2022. The fires are caused when the vehicles’ lithium batteries become damaged or fail.

The LFB told the Department for Business and Trade that greater “market surveillance” and testing requirements were needed to stop unsafe e-bike products from being sold online.

Among the most common products are ‘conversion kits’ – devices which enable users to turn their ordinary bike into an e-bike.

Dan Parsons, director of the e-bike retailer Fully Charged, told the London Assembly in June that delivery riders working in the gig economy were particularly tempted to use the kits.

He said: “The reason that these guys and girls are choosing electric bikes, home-made kits, is that it’s inexpensive for them to assemble and to put together, and they can deliver more in less time and generate more income for themselves – but they are putting themselves in danger by doing that.”

Many of the fires happen when an e-bike battery is left charging overnight in a bedroom, often in homes of multiple occupation (HMOs).

The LFB’s deputy commissioner, Dom Ellis, told the June meeting: “With e-bikes and e-scooters, the amount of energy in those battery packs is sufficient to really compromise a good-sized double bedroom in ten to 15 seconds and it’s the intimacy of the risk that’s the key concern here.”

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The brigade has for several months been running a campaign called #ChargeSafe, to try to alert people to the potential dangers of the bikes’ batteries, if they are of a poor quality and safety measures are not taken.

Charlie Pugsley, the LFB’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “We are really concerned about the sale of faulty or counterfeit products being purchased from online marketplaces for e-bikes and e-scooters like chargers, batteries and conversion kits.

“With a record number of fires involving these vehicles so far in 2023, we fear that product innovation has come ahead of proper safety standards.

“Without much-needed legislation and the right standards, more dangerous and unregulated products bought online are going to end up in people’s homes and on our streets.

“That’s why we have used this consultation as an opportunity to continue our calls to the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) to undertake urgent research into the causes of these fires and consider what specific safety standards need to be introduced to reduce the risk of fires occurring.”

The Department for Business and Trade says that it wants to use the consultation – which closed on Tuesday (24th) – to create “a fairer playing field so that shopping online is as safe as on the high street”.

A spokesperson at the department said in September: “We take all incidents of fires involving lithium batteries seriously.

“The OPSS is working closely with the fire service to review all evidence of fires involving lithium batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters to ensure the product safety issues are properly assessed and action is taken to protect users from harm.”

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