Safety Standards for Shipping Lithium Batteries

Feb. 16, 2023
IATA’s CEIV Lithium Batteries certification program is designed to enable transport, meet safety obligations and comply with applicable regulations.

It is well known that lithium batteries are now used to power a wide variety of consumer goods, ranging from mobile phones to children’s toys as well as cars and e-bikes. In the air cargo business, the are some peculiarities for the safe transfer of lithium batteries.

To safely execute the transport of these goods, members of the industry have adopted the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) Lithium Batteries certification program.

Accreditation System

Though widely used, most people are not aware that lithium batteries are dangerous goods that can pose a safety risk if not prepared in accordance with transport regulations, affirms Yaniv Sorany, senior manager of certifications at IATA.

“CEIV Lithium Batteries (Li-batt) is a certification program designed by IATA to enable the supply chain of lithium battery products such as shippers, freight forwarders, cargo handling facilities and airlines to meet their safety obligations by complying with the applicable transport regulations,” he says.

Lithium batteries are becoming the preferred energy source for consumer electronics and mobility products, notes Bob Chi, CEO of gateway services at SATS.

“For us as an air cargo handler, such growth brings business opportunities as well as the need for robust risk management. Safety, which is a top priority for the industry, has become even more important. Lithium battery shipments from improperly packed items to mislabeled packages, can pose a safety risk to aircraft, passengers and crew members,” he says. “We are proud to be the first ground handler in the world to receive the IATA CEIV Li-batt accreditation, which is a reflection of the care and diligence we accord while handling shipments of dangerous goods.”

Indeed, according to Wilson Kwong, chief executive of Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl), lithium batteries are becoming an increasingly prevalent commodity within air cargo.

“The risks arise mainly from mishandling, as severe impacts have been known to cause fires. Therefore, a rigid and comprehensive procedural regime is essential to ensure safety on the ground and in the air,” he says. “IATA is best placed to devise and implement the necessary standards, firstly because it works closely with all the major carriers and understands all aspects of aviation safety and practicality, and secondly because any IATA initiative immediately benefits from critical mass that facilitates uniformity.

“It is better to have a single, uniform standard with which everyone agrees and complies. As an accredited provider, Hactl can provide full impartial assurance to its customer airlines that the ground handling aspects of their carriage of lithium batteries is legal and safe,” Kwong adds.

Accreditation Process

Concerning the accreditation process, Sorany explains that the program is based on the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) and the IATA Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations (LBSR).

To achieve the certification, Sorany says companies shall ensure that their personnel will successfully complete the Lithium Batteries Logistics Safety Management training to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and skills to transport lithium batteries, followed by an assessment and validation audits conducted by independent validators of the company system, process, documentations and operations to determine compliance of the organization with the criteria set forth in the CEIV Lithium Batteries audit checklist and continuance improvements.

Like with all CEIV accreditations, CEIV Li-batt entails detailed documentation of all procedures, and then external auditing of these processes and all facilities by IATA to ensure they are totally compliant with the IATA handling procedures relating to lithium batteries in particular and hazardous cargo in general, explains Kwong.

“Given that Hactl was already experienced in this area, and it operates its own IATA-accredited in-house training center for DGR cargo, the process of preparing for application through to receiving accreditation was quite straightforward,” he says.

At SATS, their air cargo handling and dangerous goods operations were subjected to the CEIV Li-batt certification process over three months and in five phases, and specifically, preparation, training, assessment, validation and certification, affirms Chi.

“The assessment and independent validation process determined our compliance to over 300 items in an audit checklist, which required us to provide documentation and furnish evidence of implementation,” he says.

Competency and Quality Management

One of the stated targets of CEIV Lithium Batteries is improving competency and quality management in the handling and carriage of lithium batteries. Kwong highlights that this refers to the benefits of CEIV Li-batt accreditation: the assurance that training is current, regular and comprehensive, resulting in a properly qualified workforce, and that all necessary mechanisms are in place to monitor and log handling performance, and identify and remedy any potential shortcomings.

As to the implications of the competency and quality management target, Sorany affirms that the aviation industry has voiced concerns over the lack of awareness and the increasing number of incidents related to mis-declared and non-compliant lithium batteries in cargo shipments, and the need to address the safety risks to ensure that the safety of the supply chain is not compromised.

“The CEIV Lithium Batteries certification establishes baseline standards to improve the level of competency of personnel involved in the handling and transport of lithium batteries who must successfully complete the Lithium Batteries Logistics Safety Management training as part of the certification process,” he says.

“As a next step, companies undergo an assessment of the handling and transport of lithium batteries against the dedicated CEIV Li-batt audit checklist to ensure compliance with program’s standards, including a gap analysis if applicable and a detailed list of specific areas of improvement aiming to improve the quality management in the handling and carriage of lithium battery products throughout the supply chain,” says Sorany.

Chi observes that, as part of the accreditation process, SATS sent the key personnel across its network of operations to attend the IATA CEIV Li-batt Safety Management course.

“This was done to enhance skills and knowledge in handling lithium batteries, including the detection of undeclared/hidden lithium batteries shipped as general cargo. Establishing standardized and efficient processes also improves out capability to deliver quality service performance and helps us drive consistency, safety and operational excellence,” he says.

Future Updates

According to Sorany, CEIV Lithium Batteries program standards are updated continuously to align with the provisions of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations and the IATA Lithium Battery Shipping Regulations.

 “Moreover, IATA called on governments to further support the safe carriage of lithium batteries by developing and implementing global standards for screening, fire-testing and incident information sharing. These measures would support significant initiatives by airlines, shippers and manufacturers to ensure lithium batteries can be carried safely,” he says.

Reflecting the dynamic nature of the domain of dangerous goods, additional IATA actions to date have included updates to the dangerous goods regulations and the development of supplementary guidance material, the launch of a dangerous goods occurrence reporting alert system that provides a mechanism for airlines to share information on events involving undeclared or mis-declared dangerous goods, concludes Sorany.

About the Author

Mario Pierobon

Dr. Mario Pierobon provides solutions in the areas of documentation, training and consulting to organizations operating in safety-sensitive industries. He has conducted a doctoral research project investigating aircraft ground handling safety. He may be reached at [email protected].