With now over 150,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles (EPHVs) on the road in the UK, repairers, recovery agents and bodyshops are becoming more and more likely to come across them.
People working in the trade, whether as vehicle recovery agents, mechanics or even tyre fitters, need to be aware of the risks and dangers, as well as the safety rules surrounding these vehicles. In addition, they may need specialist training and particular tools to be able to work on electric vehicles safely.
With very little regulation and few specific qualifications offered at the moment, particularly for independent repairers, it is important to remain aware of the risks associated to alternatively-fuelled vehicles.
If working with vehicles presents in itself some danger, that automotive professionals are aware of, here we are looking at the specifics risks and constraints associated to EPHVs.
10 things you must know if you handle EVs
- Voltages are much higher than those found in traditional vehicles.
Voltages in a traditional car will typically be between 12V and 24V. In electric and hybrid vehicles, this can be up to 650V. High voltage components and cabling are capable of delivering fatal electric shocks, so it is extremely important to be fully aware of the safety procedures and take the necessary precautions when working on these vehicles.
- Even when the vehicle is switched off, there is still a risk...
Some components may retain high voltage levels even when the vehicle has been switched off. Always take extra care and ensure all processes to work safely are respected.
- Car battery cells can release harmful chemicals and can explode if mishandled.
If you handle battery cells, ensure you are familiar with their various designs and correct handling procedures. Mistakes can cost you your livelihood, and even yours or your staff’s lives if batteries are damaged or incorrectly modified.
- Magnetic forces can make the car move!
Electric motors, or the vehicle itself may move unexpectedly due to magnetic forces within the motors.
- Electric Vehicles Interfering with Pacemakers
According to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the electromagnetic fields produced by EV’s motors “don’t appear to be strong enough to interfere with implanted heart devices like pacemakers and defibrillators”. These devices are shielded, and shouldn’t be affected by external electromagnetic fields. However, there have been reports on the Internet of pacemaker users experiencing issues, so it is best to check and test before starting to work on PHEVs.
- Silent Operation means Additional Danger to Workers and Clients Walking Around
Because of the absence of noise produced while the vehicle is on, it is recommended to stay aware of your surroundings and take extra care while working around electric vehicles. You won’t hear an oncoming vehicle, so it is important to have some rules in place to ensure that you and your workforce are aware of where the vehicles are and where they are going around the workshop. This is actually such an issue - not only to automotive workers but also road users and pedestrians, that the EU have just announced that all existing EVs will have to emit some kind of sound or noise by July 2019, even when travelling at low speeds. Some manufacturers are already equipped with noise emitting devices, however there isn't a single standard for them, so different vehicles will emit different sounds, making it potentially difficult to identify what is and what isn't an approaching car!
- There is Currently not Much Regulation Around Safety for Handling PHEVs
There is astonishingly very little regulation at present, and only minimal guidance offered to automotive industry staff that handle Hybrid and EVs. Thankfully, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has recently met with the Department of Transport, asking for a change.
While franchised dealerships may have programmes in place, initiated by the manufacturers, independent garages often overlook the need to update their H & S training, and as a result could be putting lives in jeopardy.
“The risk to health and safety is very real and needs to be addressed with urgency. It is also vital that the regulatory mechanisms are in place to support businesses that will come into contact with these vehicles.”
Steve Nash, Chief Executive, IMI
- There are Multiple Options Available to Engineers for Training and Qualifications
Handling electric vehicles can sound more like being a computer analyst and knowing your way through electrics components than being a wrench-jokey or a gear shaft wizard… As the industry is changing, more and more qualifications are likely to appear. There are already ways to keep on top of the trends and be able to move your knowledge from traditional vehicles to PHEVs. It's hoped traditional mechanics won't be intimidated as the job remains similar, only the technology is different.
A number of companies offer electric and hybrid vehicle training. The IMI details the type of accreditation and processes for those working with electric and hybrids vehicles, whether they are involved in maintenance, recovery, cosmetic or mechanical repairs.
- Your Insurance Policy Can Cover You – If you Have Appropriate Qualifications and Observe the Correct Health and Safety Precautions
If you already hold a motor trader or MTC policy, it is strongly recommended to contact your insurance broker or your insurer to make sure that you are covered to work on PHEVs. You may also wish to upgrade your cover, or add a liability cover, for example. If you are a Plan Insurance customer or if you are looking for a motor trade or MTC insurance, ring our team at 0800 542 2742 to discuss your policy (lines are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5.30pm).
- Handling Autonomous Vehicles
The days of an autonomous vehicle driving itself to your bodyshop to get its scheduled annual maintenance are not quite there yet. However, it is likely to become a reality in the not so distant future… The industry will see massive changes, and there will be a need to review business models to remain competitive and on top of the trends. But let’s face it, cars will always need to be maintained, and it is very unlikely that autonomous vehicles won’t ever get a scratch or need a tyre changed…
Handling Electric and Hybrid vehicles requires awareness of health and safety, specialist skillset and knowledge, as well as training and regulations. But there is an insufficient number of mechanics and automotive workers qualified to work with PHEVs in the UK, and therefore a huge opportunity exists for those willing to start a career in the future of the automotive industry, or to re-centre their business around the electric (r)evolution…