PRBA Highlights Battery Safety At FTC ‘Right to Repair’ Workshop

Executive Director George Kerchner focused on battery safety concerns at a Federal Trade Commission workshop held today on right to repair policy.

Rechargeable lithium ion batteries have become the preferred power source for a vast array of consumer battery-powered products such as cellular phones, tablets, medical devices, power tools and hybrid and electric vehicles, Kerchner said in prepared remarks delivered at the FTC workshop.

“I appear here today to reemphasize PRBA’s commitment to the safe handling of those products and their batteries, and to discourage new rules or policy from the FTC relating to ‘right to repair’ that would exacerbate the fire risks arising from their mishandling,” Kerchner stated.

Many lithium ion batteries look alike. Yet these batteries are typically manufactured to custom specifications to ensure they work with a specific device. Lithium batteries are not interchangeable, Kerchner noted. “To the contrary, device manufacturers work closely with their battery suppliers to design a safe and dependable battery that can be securely installed in their device to maximize safety,” Kercher said.

Mishandling of lithium ion batteries, including inept or unauthorized repair efforts, can pose significant safety risks, including thermal runaway, which can cause fires, despite ongoing safety efforts of battery manufacturers, Kerchner noted during a panel discussion on the arguments for and against repair restrictions.

As for the ubiquitous consumer electronic, most are powered by sophisticated battery safety systems and cannot be easily dismantled other than by properly trained professionals. “Changing any of these components by consumers or untrained service technicians would require full reevaluation of the entire system to assure that safety has not been compromised,” Kerchner emphasized.

“Ultimately, manufacturers are trying to make sure that customers are satisfied with their products in a highly competitive marketplace for electronic devices – and that includes keeping them safe. It also includes offering repair polices that meet customers’ needs and prioritizes safe repair practices through authorized providers,” Kerchner said.

Kerchner even questioned whether framing the headline issue at the FTC workshop as “repair restrictions” is helpful. “When it comes to batteries, we are talking about product design decisions and authorized repair options that manufacturers provide to help maximize battery and device safety and longevity for the benefit of consumers,” Kerchner stated.