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The rising importance of safety measures in Europe's growing gigafactory industry

Currently, the UK has one gigafactory, AESC UK in Sunderland, which supplies batteries for Nissan’s electric vehicles. (Image source: Adobe Stock)


Matthew Parr from Hughes Safety Showers discusses with SHP Online the growing importance of emergency safety showers and eye/face washes in gigafactories, as their prevalence increases across Europe.

As governments and policymakers recognise the urgency of prioritising sustainability, the shift towards electric vehicles is becoming more apparent in Europe.

In March 2023, the European Parliament approved new legislation to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2035. While the legislation awaits approval from the European Council, the momentum towards embracing all-electric vehicles is undeniably accelerating.

Unit sales of new electric vehicles in Europe are expected to reach 3.44 million by 2028, with an additional 1.4 million plug-in hybrid vehicles. As demand for electric vehicles grows, so does the need for lithium-ion batteries.

Currently, the UK has one gigafactory, AESC UK in Sunderland, which supplies batteries for Nissan’s electric vehicles. Across Europe, the number of gigafactories is expected to increase, with Germany, Hungary, and France projected to host 19 of them.

Given the nature of materials and processes involved, gigafactories are associated with significant risks. Understanding and addressing these risks is essential for ensuring the safety and well-being of the growing workforce in this sector.

Manufacturing risks

Lithium-ion batteries are made up of four primary components: cathode, anode, separator, and electrolyte. Improper handling, overcharging, short-circuiting, or overheating of these batteries can lead to significant dangers such as expansion, splintering, and leakage, which pose serious workplace hazards.

While automation in the manufacturing process and the correct use of PPE can help protect workers from hazardous materials, employers must remain vigilant. If electrolytes leak or spill from a battery, they can react with air and water to form hydrofluoric acid.

What are the effects of a hydrofluoric acid burn?

Abbas Kanani MRPharmS, superintendent pharmacist at Chemist Click, explained the dangers hydrofluoric acid poses when it comes into contact with the body.

He said, “Hydrofluoric acid is one of the strongest acids that causes corrosive burns and can also involve underlying bone. It is highly toxic and damaging. Contact with high-concentration products can be fatal.”

When a person first comes into contact with hydrofluoric acid, they’ll experience severe pain at the site of the burn. Kanani elaborated stating, “There may be swelling, slow-healing burns, blisters or a rash present and pain can occur even if there are no visible burns.”

The lasting damage can be significant too, with Kanani adding, “Skin damage can take a long time to heal and can result in severe scarring. Eye exposure can cause permanent blindness or total destruction of the eye.”

In the event of accidental contact with hydrochloric acid, a thorough decontamination as quickly as possible for at least 15 minutes is essential to remove any residual chemical.