A white electric BMW being charged

Photo by Eren Goldman on Unsplash

Back in November 2020, Britain announced its intention to be the first G7 nation to achieve the benchmark of phasing out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. By 2035, all new cars and vans must have ‘zero emissions at the tailpipe’.

At the end of January 2024, there were around a million fully electric cars travelling Britain’s roads, and over 1.6 million plug-in hybrids. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of fully electric car registrations increased by 18%.The number of plug-in hybrids increased by 41% over the same period.

Just like petrol and diesel models, EHVs (Electric & Hybrid Vehicles) require the same levels of maintenance in terms of servicing, repairs, breakdown recovery and ancillary services such as MOT tests.

Health and safety standards

Alongside the enormous challenge of how to quickly create the required charging infrastructure to match the demand for EHVs, there are a range of serious considerations around health and safety standards for car and van dealerships and workshops now handling electric and hybrid vehicles daily, which pose additional safety concerns.

EHVs present a raft of new challenges for repair and maintenance, including electric shock, the potential for fire and explosion, retained voltages, and the release of gases and aggressive liquids if batteries are damaged.

The HSE website carries some guidance for people in the motor vehicle repair and roadside recovery industries, as well as the emergency services who may be called out to incidents involving electric and hybrid vehicles.

No sound

From the most obvious issues, including the fact that electric vehicles make no sound and can present a hazard for this reason through to possible questions about EHVs moving without warning, they present a different problem for workshop personnel.

Emergency services personnel responding to incidents are encouraged to check for damage to high-voltage electrical components and cabling. Simple steps like isolating high voltage battery systems are important, where it is safe to do so, and ensuring the remote operation key is kept at a safe distance when loading an EHV onto a recovery vehicle. Towing EHVs is not recommended.

Remove the remote operation key

Similar recommendations also apply for maintenance and repair procedures including removing the remote operation key to a safe distance to prevent any possibility of activation. The key should be “isolated” in a “Faraday cage” box or pouch - this will prevent the keyless starting, now common in vehicles. The current guidance recommends that when working on EHVs, the technicians should refer to manufacturers’ guidelines at all times, and certainly establish where high voltage cables are located before any work begins.

High voltage drive-train

The key issue lies with the high voltages involved in the drivetrain. The comparison between typical petrol and diesel cars and EHVs illustrates this very clearly; a petrol car presents with a maximum charge of 12/24 volts DC. A typical EHV is significantly greater, at around 650 volts DC. Anything over 110 volts DC presents a real danger to life.

In addition, EHVs usually have more than one battery, and these batteries contain a range of potentially harmful chemicals, as well as an inherent risk of fire and explosion.

As a result, we are faced with a plethora of new (and often unrecognised) hazards in this specific workplace. The risk is not just for those working on the vehicle; emergency services personnel who may attend an incident, delivery and recovery drivers also need to be aware of the issues.

The IMI has also produced a standard detailing procedures for working on EHVs in PDF format.

In addition, there is some good guidance for those charged with carrying out MOT tests.

This includes familiarisation with starting and stopping the vehicle, making sure the ignition is turned off and removing the smart key to a safe distance from the vehicle to avoid the risk of activation. A visual risk assessment looking for any damage to the vehicle before work commences is also important.

What are the risks of working with EHVs

The main risk when working on an EV is the high voltage, usually around 650 volts DC. Working with high voltages presents a clear risk of serious injuries, from electrocution to serious burns, electrical arc flash, explosion and fire. It’s not just the EV battery pack that poses a risk - any component that has a connection with it is deemed a high-voltage component.

It’s vital to be aware of this and also the cabling that could deliver a fatal electric shock. Even if the vehicle is switched off, some of these capacitive components can hold a voltage at a dangerous level, so it’s vital to have access to specific information on the vehicle to optimise safety; different manufacturers have differing designs.

Never work on live electrical equipment unless there is no alternative, and take all necessary precautions such as appropriate PPE.

Multiple batteries can also mean the vehicle is carrying an increased amount of chemicals, which if released through damage, explosion or fire will constitute a significant health risk. Typically, these lithium-based batteries contain manganese, cobalt, nickel and graphite as well as lead acid.

So what are the specific risks?

  • High voltages present a risk of electric shock
  • Potential risk from stored/retained electrical energy in the batteries and other EHV components
  • Risk of release of explosive gases and other chemicals if batteries are damaged, either in an accident or in the workshop
  • The potential for unexpected movement in EHVs, as well as the threat posed by silent operation
  • There is a chance that the electrical systems can impact medical devices 

Also, cover the anti-fibrillator impact of milliamp currents arising from EV batteries - quite shocking when you read about this!

Risk of fire

It is still unclear how many EV fires happen each year, however, EV batteries store electrical energy, which is why they are the No 1 cause of fires in EVs. If not handled correctly, if they are defective or damaged in an accident they can be subject to explosion. Fire can start when a damaged battery cell short circuits and causes a chemical reaction, generating heat as well as flammable and toxic gases.

EV fires are more serious because the fire will start extremely quickly in the battery and burn at a far higher temperature. There is also a risk of a phenomenon known as ‘thermal runaway’. If this happens, the fire spreads through the membranes into the adjoining battery cells, whilst the physical makeup of lithium-ion batteries fuels the fire, often at temperatures well over 1000oC.

It's not just the fire itself that is problematic; the chemicals in the battery will emit highly toxic gases, fumes and smoke which can prove fatal to people in the area. Because of the intensity of the fire, there is also the risk of it spreading to other structures or vehicles nearby. Lithium-ion battery fires can also reignite multiple times for hours. 

There is a good safety solution. All workshops should be equipped with a suitable EV car fire blanket. This can be deployed before the state of thermal runaway is reached, reducing the temperature and intensity of the fire, limiting the release of gases into the atmosphere and protecting people and equipment.

As the number of EHVs on our roads grows, it would be advantageous for other organisations such as emergency services and even car parks to invest in EV car fire blankets to mitigate the risk of fire.

There are additional considerations here too. The smoke from an EV battery fire contains significant levels of carcinogens. Once a blanket has been deployed, it must be cleaned down, and this residue will also be carcinogenic.

Some dealerships have investigated the potential for total immersion of a vehicle in water as a possible solution. This presents several additional problems, as the water will then be toxic and cannot be released back into the water table.

How can EHV technicians reduce the risks?

Training is the key. It is accepted that four categories of work have been identified around the EV question. These include:-

  • Valeting, sales and other low-risk activities
  • Incident response including emergency services and vehicle recovery
  • Maintenance and repair excluding high-voltage electrical systems
  • Working on high-voltage electrical systems

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has produced some excellent guidance for those working on or near EVs in PDF format.

Training courses

Again, the IMI offers a range of nationally recognised vocational qualifications for those wishing to demonstrate their capabilities in the growing electric and hybrid vehicle market. These include Key stages 4 & 5 for those still in school and VRQ/NVQ/VCQ qualifications.

Other bodies offer the IMI approved training courses including EV Training.

PPE Equipment

Having the right Personal Protective Equipment in the workshop or dealership is vital. PPE plays an important role in keeping people safe in this workplace. Providing a last line of defence for protection against serious injuries and burns, the range of PPE suitable for EV applications is comprehensive and widely available.

At EV Safety we stock specialist head-to-toe EV protection kits as well as a full range of gloves, face shields, helmets, balaclavas, arc flash sweatshirts, jackets, trousers and coveralls, overboots and hazard trainers.

Workshop safety

Keeping ahead and having the right safety equipment in the workshop can save a life. At EV Safety we have an extensive range of workshop safety products, from electric vehicle intervention kits through to rescue hooks, lith-ex extinguishers and insulated ratchet sets.         

For those looking for a one-stop solution, we offer our specialist Reece EV Garage Pack for garages looking to implement EV safety. This off-the-shelf pack includes the Tool Pack; Electric Intervention Pack; EV PPE Pack; EV Workbay Pack and EV Lockout Pack.

We also stock car fire blankets, providing a fast and efficient way to isolate both EV and traditional car fires.

Signage & Lockout Products

Clear signage is also vital to keep people safe, from lockout kits through to safety warning signs. As an example, vehicles may need to be placed in a location to keep them away from other areas of the workshop; here, demarcation warning signs, tapes/chains and barriers play a role in getting a clear message across.


As the numbers of EHVs continue to grow, the requirement for quality safety equipment developed specifically for this market is expected to rise accordingly. Keeping the people who work on our EHVs safe at all times is a priority. Take a look at our online store to match your requirements.