EV technicians need a new, safer toolbox

Working on an electric vehicle packs a lot more punch than you would get from licking a 9-volt battery. It can lead to vehicle lurches, fires and even electrocution. That’s why having a proper kit of insulated tools, personal protection equipment and even rescue safety tools are essential for the job and overall safety.

Companies such as Eintac, Rauckman Utility and Collision Services already are ramping up for this new technology. While they are “tooling up” with the proper equipment, other companies are developing safety protocols to help keep employees safe.

Micah O’Shaughnessy, regulatory project manager for environmental, health and safety consulting firm KPA, said it is developing online training for technicians with some on-site instruction by consultants. A current focus is “affected employee” training.

Most collision centers and body shops use I-CAR protocols and its certification programs. A dealership will generally handle a specific brand of EV while a collision center will work on a wide variety of brands.

“Many OEM certification courses jump right into the electrical terms, the safety, but they don’t think about who the audience is,” O’Shaughnessy said.

KPA breaks the audience into two groups. Most technicians are not electricians, but through their training and certification programs they are considered “authorized employees.” They have the knowledge and training, and are aware of all the hazards and specific steps they need to take.

On the other side of the equation are “affected employees” who may be working on an internal combustion engine vehicle in the next bay, working the parts counter or serving as a porter who might move the cars.

An authorized technician will know how to remove and replace a battery. An affected employee may be the parts counter staffer who receives and potentially opens a battery or other EV component. Another consideration arises if a battery was damaged in transit. The parts person needs to know what to do and how to protect themselves.

EV service technicians need a new set of tools, including insulated hand tools and any other type of equipment that may accidentally end up dropping into the vehicle. Some safety advisers say these tools should only be used on EVs.

This develops muscle memory that will have the technician reaching for the proper tool rather than the closest tool.

KPA’s O’Shaughnessy recommends a case with all the tools you will need to work on an EV. It will include insulated screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, ratchets, tool extensions and more. If a service technician is using an impact wrench, they will need to ensure it has an insulated extension.

At this time, technicians are not opening up battery casings where all the energy is stored. However, if a tool comes in contact with a high-voltage cable or some other part of the closed circuit, the tech can be exposed to the entire load.

It’s not just hand tools that need insulation. EV lifts need insulated adapters that come in contact with the vehicle. This prevents them from grounding out should a mishap occur while a car is in the air.

Manufacturers such as General Motors offer their dealerships a list of approved lift manufacturers required as part of their GM Electric Model Participation Agreements. Companies such as Rotary Lift and Challenger Lifts are already among GM’s approved vendors.

Hydraulic lift tables also are necessities. Ford’s Rotunda Service Solutions division offers a 3,000-pound capacity EV battery and powertrain table to lift and remove batteries and EV powertrains from their vehicles. Bosch and BendPak are other manufacturers offering such devices.

With a nearly continuous chain of EVs coming from almost all manufacturers, the tools are becoming more common. Still, many are specified by each manufacturer. According to O’Shaughnessy, “they send a bunch of tools saying, ‘You’ll need these to work on our EVs.’ Then they send you the bill.”

Hyundai has a specified list of tools required as essential parts of a technician’s gear, especially if they will be working on hybrid and electric models. These include:

  • Insulated maintenance kit, 29-pc metric-essential: $1,295.00
  • Engine lift table adapter kit-essential: $425.00
  • EV air bleeding tool-essential: $224.05
  • Insulated glove test device-essential: $162.45
  • EV face shield and hard hat-essential: $129.42
  • Insulated safety gloves (pair)-essential: $108.00
  • Red danger high-voltage car topper-essential: $17.21.

Other companies are helping technicians, dealerships and collision centers tool up as well. United Kingdom-based Eintac — with U.S. offices in Clearwater, Fla. — offers tools and training for “safe-working on electric vehicles.” It has outfitted Subaru Europe and Mazda UK with manufacturer-branded equipment packages including tool kits, PPE and safety signage.

Eintac’s Technical Manager Ian McDonnell said the minimum equipment any workshop should have when working on hybrid and electric vehicles “is shown in our technician’s kit.”

McDonnell said a vehicle fire blanket and vehicle barrier systems also are essential.

The barrier system helps isolate EVs from internal combustion vehicles, limiting exposure to “authorized employees.”

Another vital tool is an insulated safety rescue hook that can pull a worker away from a hazardous situation.

But McDonnell said all the tools won’t help if the people using them are ill-prepared.

“The workshop should seriously consider technician training,” he said. “This is, by far, the most important thing.

Electric and hybrid vehicles contain high-voltage DC electricity currently up to 800 volts. Anything above 60 volts DC has the ability to stop a human heart.”