Electric vehicles (EV) have surged in popularity over recent years. Now, passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 promises to incentivize getting even more EVs out on the road. A reality that presents a new normal for how dealerships and repair facilities view safety training.
Servicing EVs presents unique risks: like thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that creates extreme heat and can be extremely difficult to stop. And as EV technology continues to develop, the risks associated with working on EVs will likely change as well.
A comprehensive electric vehicle safety training program can help employees stay safe now—and in the future. In this article, I’ll go over five things employers should know about electric vehicle safety training.
1. Effective EV safety training Is facility-specific
EV technicians complete vehicle-focused safety training as part of their certification with the manufacturer. But facility-specific factors also have an impact. To design an effective EV safety training program, start by considering:
- Your facility’s layout. The physical location of your service area impacts which employees are at risk as well as access to emergency equipment and exits.
- State and local regulations. Employees may be required to comply with regulations specific to their location which are not addressed in certification programs.
It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure EV safety training comprehensively addresses all the information all employees need to know. And it’s the employer’s responsibility, too, to support successful completion of safety training by all employees.
To ensure your employees receive the training necessary to maintain a safe workplace, track completion of training programs on a regular basis, say quarterly or yearly.
2. EV safety training is critical for all employees—not just techs
If you’re working with EVs, all employees in your facility are at risk of being impacted by dangers such as a fire or electric shock. That’s why safety training is critical for everyone—not just your certified technicians.
Say a tech experiences electric shock while working on an EV charging port. The initial human impulse is to help them. But without proper safety training, a coworker’s attempts to help might do more harm than good. In fact, if they’re not wearing PPE and using non-conductive material like rubber or wood to separate the tech from the battery, they’re likely to join the circuit and be shocked as well.
Safety training educates employees about how to handle EV-specific dangers such as assisting others experiencing electric shock. It also increases the likelihood that all employees will review—and understand—written warnings and guidelines, like workplace posters and product labels.
These documents may be posted throughout your facility or affixed to EV components such as a battery or charger. Without the right education, however, employees are less likely to even read these materials, much less understand them.
Of course, not all employees need to be trained at the same level. The education necessary for understanding safe conduct around electric vehicle components won’t be as in-depth as training for employees who work to repair those components.
Expect the scope and length of training to vary according to each employee’s interaction with EVs. Those who work in the admin office may only need 15 minutes of training, for example. While techs, on the other hand, may benefit from 40 hours or more.
3. EV safety training includes specific emergency response procedures
Emergency response procedures tell employees what to do and where to go when something goes wrong. As such, they increase the likelihood that your employees stay safe. So when designing your training materials, be sure to include clear, specific steps for employees to take in emergency situations.
These procedures are likely to be based on local regulations. In case of a battery fire, for example, one fire department may advise letting the battery burn until first responders arrive. In a different state, the fire chief may require that you make all reasonable efforts to remove the burning battery from the facility with a forklift.
Each approach has its benefits and its risks. Moving a burning battery may lower the likelihood of the fire spreading inside the facility. At the same time, it increases opportunities for the employees moving it to be burned or otherwise injured.
In any case, be sure to train employees for each reasonable contingency (e.g., battery fire, electric shock, thermal runaway, etc.). And educate employees on procedures for both how to handle the EV materials as well as how and when to evacuate the building.
Individual brands may provide emergency response guides for their vehicles. Likewise, employers should provide emergency response plans for their facilities, including:
- How and when to stop work for safety.
- The locations of the nearest exits throughout the facility.
- Designated assembly areas.
- When to wait for further instructions.
- Who to expect instructions from.
As with all safety materials, make sure these response plans are kept up to date and regularly distributed.
EV technology continues to evolve. In fact, battery technology in particular is making massive leaps year-over-year. That’s why EV safety training isn’t something employees can just check-off their list during onboarding. It requires continuing education with up-to-date materials.
But it’s not just EV technology that’s changing. The tools employees and first responders have to help address emergencies continue to improve along with the tech. And the regulations governing emergency preparedness and response are under nearly constant revision.
So stay responsive. Develop annual training programs that reflect the latest changes to technology, tools, and regulations. But also train when something happens. If a new brand or technology makes its way into your shop in March, it won’t do anyone any good to wait until the beginning of the next year to train.
When developing your training materials, make sure they accurately use the terminology most applicable to EV safety.
Electrocution, for example, is an event in which catastrophic amperage results in long term damage. It implies death and serious harm. Electric shock, on the other hand, more accurately defines an event workers servicing EVs may experience.
But using the correct terminology isn’t just a matter of accuracy. As regulations continue to develop, legislators are, in part, looking to our industry for exactly what they should regulate. Erroneously presenting electrocution as a common risk for those working with EVs may result in unnecessarily restrictive oversight.
On the other hand, guidelines developed in response to common issues like electric shock can help workers stay safe from the hazards they are likely to face.
The hazards common to working around EVs extend beyond battery fires and electric shock.
Employees in fulfillment, for example, need to understand how to safely pack, handle, and ship EV batteries. And warehouse workers require training for how to safely store EV batteries, including what counts as a sufficient storage clearance.
To support all your workers, identify the needs of employees throughout your facility. Then, develop the training materials to keep them safe.
Micah O’Shaughnessy is the Regulatory Project Manager for KPA, an EHS and workforce compliance software and services provider for midsize businesses. KPA solutions help clients identify, remedy, and prevent workplace safety and compliance problems across their entire enterprise. The combination of KPA’s Vera Suite platform, EHS consulting services, and award-winning training content helps organizations minimize risk so they can focus on what’s important: their core business. For over 30 years, KPA has helped more than 10,000 clients achieve regulatory compliance, protect assets, and retain top talent.