By the time this article is published, AS/NZS 3000 (known as the Wiring Rules) may have been amended. If it hasn’t been, the people in the know say to expect it shortly. This means that the existing reference in section 7.3 (which calls out the standard to follow when installing batteries) will change to AS/NZS 5139, the new battery standard.

Most regulators are waiting for the amendment to the Wiring Rules before mandating AS/NZS 5139 but some regulators, such as those in Tasmania and Victoria, have already called it up. Either way, it is time to get on board and familiarise yourself with the standard.

Understanding the new standard

The standard AS/NZS 5139 is like three standards in one, with the section that you follow depending on the battery you are installing. Sections 1, 2, 3 and 7 in the standard must be followed for all battery installations, and:

  • Section 4 must also be followed if you are installing a Clean Energy Council (CEC) approved battery energy storage system (BESS).
  • Section 5 must be followed if you are installing a CEC approved battery system (BS).
  • Section 6 must be followed if you are installing any other battery. Section 6 has the most rules, so if you are still notching up experience, I would advise using CEC approved products for simplicity of installation.

There are many rules that are unique to the specific battery you are installing. However, there are some blanket rules that need to be followed regardless of the type of battery. One of these blanket rules is the requirement to complete a risk assessment.

Completing a traditional risk assessment

Most good businesses are accustomed to completing a safe work method statement or job safety analysis before they start work. This typically involves assessing the high-risk activities on the job site and planning a safer way to complete them.

For example, on many battery installations you will need to park your vehicle on a road to unload the battery. Working on or near roads can be a high-risk activity because there is the potential for workers to be struck by vehicles traveling at speed. Therefore, before starting work you need to consider the inherent risks of this part of the job by describing the hazard, which is the first step of the risk assessment process.

I know it may seem a bit macabre, but it is necessary to assess the inherent risks by making a judgement on the consequence of what would happen if you got hit by a car and the likelihood of this actually happening at the site you are working at. The multiplication of likelihood and consequence give you an inherent risk rating, which is the second step of the risk assessment process.

The third step is assessing the way to minimise this risk. In many instances, you cannot reduce the consequence level, but you can reduce the likelihood. In the example where a car could hit a worker, several controls could be implemented to minimise the likelihood of this happening, including wearing high visibility clothing, implementing traffic management and using spotters.

Once you implement these controls, you can carry out the fourth step by re-assessing the original inherent risk to get a residual risk, which is lower and thus makes it safe to do your job. You then complete this process for every high-risk activity.

New risk assessment process for batteries

This is just one stage of the risk assessment required by AS/NZS 5139. The other stage requires you to consider the risks associated with the battery system itself. The CEC is calling this stage of the risk assessment the site-specific battery system component, and this is the part that relates to AS/NZS 5139.

When reading AS/NZS 5139, it helps to have a solid understanding of the risk assessment process, so it might be worth paying a bit more attention to the mechanics of the process next time you are completing a safe work method statement or job safety analysis. There is also an explainer of this in appendix G of AS/NZS 5139, and the CEC has produced a diagram to help you understand how the risk assessment process is integrated into the standard.

The process of completing the risk assessment is the same as for a safe work method statement or job safety analysis, but the subject matter is slightly different to what most tradesmen will be used to. The first step of describing the hazard is systematically presented in AS/NZS 5139 Section 3. Table 3.1 lists the common hazards in batteries that can be seen in the diagram included on this page.

The second step of assessing the inherent risk is to be completed by the installer. You need to ask yourself, what is the consequence of the hazard? This depends on the battery chemistry and product characteristics being installed, so getting this from your battery manufacturer is essential. You also need to exercise a bit of judgement to determine the likelihood of something going wrong with the battery in the location you have chosen to install it.

The third step in the risk assessment process is nominating the controls for each hazard. I mentioned earlier that AS/NZS 5139 is like three standards in one, depending on the battery you are installing. Each one of these ‘standards’ gives you the controls to follow for that battery type and they are written to correspond to the hazards in Section 3.

The fourth step is to assess the residual risk. Like step two, the installer needs to re-assess the risk based on the installation with the control measures in place.

The CEC has released a sample risk assessment template for installers to use when installing CEC approved batteries. Please go to the installer section of our website for a copy.

For a list of CEC approved batteries, jump onto the products section of the CEC website. If you want more clarification on this, I would encourage you to log into the installer section of the CEC website and watch the Toolbox Talk called “AS/NZS 5139: An overview”.

James Patterson is technical support leader at the Clean Energy Council.