In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR) provide the main basis for ensuring the safety of consumer goods by imposing certain controls. These ensure that all products including batteries intended for or likely to be used by consumers under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions are safe.
As a manufacturer, own-brander or importer of batteries (all of which are termed a 'producer' under the Regulations) you will have certain obligations, including traceability and monitoring requirements. There are also separate obligations for retailers and wholesalers (known as 'distributors') of batteries.
Note: the safety of batteries is only partially enforced by trading standards; for information on other areas please see the guidance from the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) on the GOV.UK website.
There is no specific UK safety legislation for batteries (sometimes referred to as cells) but under the GPSR goods sold to the public should not present any unnecessary risk to anyone during normal or reasonably foreseeable use. If you sell goods that are found to be unsafe, you risk a substantial claim for compensation, as well as being prosecuted for a criminal offence.
In assessing the safety of products, account is taken of (among other things) the:
- packaging, all accompanying instructions and any other labelling
- effect of the product on other products with which it may be foreseeably used
- special needs of particular classes of person, especially children
These three factors will affect the safety of batteries. Below are particular risks arising from these factors that have to be considered
Button batteries / cells
Button batteries / cells (sometimes known as coin batteries) are attractive to small children, who may put them in their mouths and swallow them. The ingested product can cause significant damage to internal organs as it reacts with bodily fluids, such as mucus or saliva, creating a circuit that can release an alkali strong enough to burn through human tissue. More than 50% of serious outcomes due to button / cell ingestion occur after an unwitnessed ingestion. The effects of this process are particularly severe when a product is lodged in one location (for example, oesophagus, nostril) for more than one hour.
The safety risk to children from button batteries / cells arises when children can gain access to the products, so reducing child access to small batteries / cells, regardless of size or chemistry, is essential. Child resistant packaging should be used to create a physical barrier between a child and a potentially hazardous product; it should be designed in a way that limits the ability of a child to access the product from the packaging. For example, the packaging should not permit the products to all spill out of the packaging.
Labelling requirements: hazards and warnings
Additionally, the labelling of products and their packaging with appropriate instructions and warnings offers an opportunity to educate and warn consumers about the potential hazards associated with batteries - for example, 'Keep away from children - can cause severe internal organ damage if ingested'.
Certain European safety standards require batteries to be labelled in a specified manner. For example, the use of multiple language labelling should not impact on the legibility of the suitable warnings due to a reduced text size.
All cells and batteries have standardised codified names. These are most commonly drawn from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard. An example is the CR2032 coin cell. The first letter, C, denotes that the cell chemistry is lithium. The R denotes that the cell is round. Cells can also be Flat (F), Square (S), or Not Round (P). The three- or four-digit reference numbers indicate the size of the cell. The very common button cell 2032 indicates that the cell is nominally 20 mm in diameter and 3.2 mm thick – rounded down to the next whole number.
There have been concerns regarding the supply of replacement batteries / cells for vaping products, in particular that the replacement products were not designed to replace the original batteries / cells in the vaping product but instead were originally risk assessed and designed for non-vaping product purposes. As these products are intended for higher-risk scenarios where the product is contained in or adjacent to the mouth, information is required as to whether the products are:
- compatible regarding the electronic battery management system for the product
- able to function under certain possible low-resistance circuit conditions
OPPS has produced some posters and other materials on battery safety for vaping products.
What are my responsibilities as a producer?
Under the GPSR you are classed as a producer if you are one of the following:
- the manufacturer of a product established in a Member State of the European Union (EU)
- any other person presenting themselves as the manufacturer by affixing to the product their name, trademark or other distinctive mark
- the importer of a product from outside of the EU
A producer shall only place 'safe' consumer products on the market. A safe consumer product is any product that under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use presents no risk or only the minimum risk compatible with the product's use and is consistent with a high level of protection for consumers.
There are no harmonised European safety standards offering a presumption of conformity for producers but there are extensive European standards that have been sourced from international standards, which can assist in assessing safety as the standard will be taken into account in deciding whether the product is safe.
The following standards may be relevant.
BS EN IEC 60086-1: Primary Batteries. General
This document standardises the dimensions, nomenclature, marking and some test methods, for primary batteries (non-rechargeable). It refers briefly to safety and environmental aspects. Annex G contains a general code of practice for the packaging, shipment, storage, use and disposal but does not contain detailed tests. For example, they should be adequately packaged to prevent moisture ingress or to prevent short circuits.
BS EN IEC 60086-3: Primary batteries. Watch batteries
This is not a safety standard but it may be relevant when determining the cell dimensions and chemical make up for subsequent safety assessment.
BS EN IEC 60086‑4: Primary batteries. Safety of lithium batteries
This recent document specifies voluntary safety tests and requirements for primary lithium batteries to ensure their safe operation under intended use and reasonably foreseeable misuse - for example, tests for short circuit failure, for leakage failure, etc. The standard specifies cautionary markings, cautionary pictograms and instructions. Additionally, the safety standard introduces a voluntary packaging performance test for the higher risk coin cells with a diameter of 16 mm and larger.
BS EN IEC 60086-5: Primary batteries. Safety of batteries with aqueous electrolyte
This standard generally replicates for the cells within scope of the safety requirements of the above BS EN IEC 60086‑4.
BS EN 62133‑1: Secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes. Safety requirements for portable sealed secondary cells, and for batteries made from them, for use in portable applications. Nickel systems
This standard specifies requirements and tests for the safe operation of portable sealed secondary nickel cells and batteries containing alkaline electrolyte, under intended use and reasonably foreseeable misuse. It includes voluntary safety guidance on packaging and labelling, including button cells.
BS EN 62133‑2: Secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acidelectrolytes. Safety requirements for portable sealed secondary cells, and for batteries made from them, for use in portable applications. Lithium systems
This standard specifies requirements and tests for the safe operation of portable sealed secondary lithium cells under intended use and reasonably foreseeable misuse. It replicates BS EN 62133‑1 but for lithium cells.
As a producer you must "adopt measures commensurate" with the characteristics of the cell / battery products to enable you to be informed of risks and to take appropriate action - for example, by marking the product or the packaging with your name and address and a satisfactory product reference or batch number.
Safety testing plan
To enable you to become aware of risks that the battery might present, you should:
- sample-test marketed products
- investigate and if necessary keep a register of complaints concerning the safety of the product
- keep distributors informed of the results of such monitoring where a product presents a risk or may present a risk
The maintenance and storage of suitable quality assurance records will assist you in illustrating to trading standards your establishment of a due diligence system.
What are my responsibilities as a retailer?
Different obligations under the GPSR apply to retailers and wholesalers of consumer goods whose actions do not affect the safety of the goods (termed a 'distributor' under the Regulations).
See 'General product safety: distributors' for more information.
Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement & penalties'.
New content: July 2020