Should lithium batteries be classified as Dangerous Goods?

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When we talk about Dangerous Goods, we, in the business, tend to automatically focus on freight and transportation, because that is the nature of the industry and a major topic of conversation for both BDP and our customers. However, I would like to point out that Dangerous Goods are not only found in freight, but also in other aspects of transportation. So, when we travel by plane, we can also encounter Dangerous Goods in the form of lithium batteries.

Lithium batteries are very common in many of our favorite devices including cell phones, laptops, digital tablets and notebooks, smart watches, and cameras - just to name a few.  But these personal items are not considered “freight”, so do the Dangerous Goods regulations really apply here? I give a resounding “Yes”, the regulations absolutely do apply here.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a provision in their Dangerous Goods regulation that addresses lithium batteries carried on by passengers in their Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs).

These regulations do allow you to take Lithium Batteries on the plane with you, but they limit these to 15 PEDs. Wow, 15 PEDs, you will never have that many devices on you, right? Please be careful, and look again. I also found it hard to believe when this rule came out initially, but I took a moment to double check my carry-on items.

Since I travel a great deal as an instructor, I have a lot of “stuff” that I bring along with me, and I was astonished to realize 15 PEDs is really not so many. Here is what I found: 1 personal phone with spare power pack, 1 business phone, 1 laptop, 1 smartwatch, 1 mp3 player, 1 laser pointer, 2 extra power bricks, 1 set of noise-canceling headphones, 1 iPad, and 1 rechargeable camera. Right here I have 12 PEDs containing lithium batteries, and I probably overlooked 1 or 2 items that also contain them, such as a handheld game or an electronic device taken along for demonstration purposes. These batteries are all around us, but if they are old, faulty, or misused, they do pose a danger, and I wholeheartedly agree they should be regulated. 

Technology Hardware

Now, I don’t think extreme regulations are necessary, where the batteries are not allowed on a plane at all, but rather having a requirement in place to ensure they are in good condition (for personal use) or packed in proper packaging (for commercial transportation).  

To date, manufacturers have come up with a design that will contain a Lithium battery fire within the package so it will not spread, causing additional damage.

While lithium batteries are very dangerous when they go into an uncontrolled thermal runaway reaction (as is more than amply demonstrated on YouTube and the like), those accidents are the exception. Today in commercial transportation, the industry is doing everything possible to transport these batteries in a safe and secure fashion. And we can do our part, reducing or eliminating the risks in our travels, by making sure that we follow the requirements of the airlines, and by making sure that the devices that we carry with us are in good condition, and are not damaged or compromised.

Common sense is the rule of thumb here.