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Forklift Battery Changing Station Safety

Quick Tips #112

Powered industrial trucks are used in many industries for a variety of applications. Due to increasing technological advancements, battery powered industrial trucks are becoming more and more prevalent. With longer run times, shorter recharging times and reduced emissions, this type of truck is going to become even more popular. Currently, there are numerous styles of battery operated trucks that range from small, motorized pallet trucks to much larger high lift trucks. No matter what kind of truck you have, there are similar hazards associated with their batteries and their maintenance.

Forklift Battery Changing and Charging Safety

There are two styles of batteries in industrial trucks today: Lead acid or nickel-iron. Both of these batteries can pose health and safety hazards.

  • Sheer weight—some batteries weigh as much as 2000 lbs. or more
  • Gases emitted during charging can be highly volatile
  • Corrosive chemicals exist within the battery

For these reasons, battery changing stations and the employees that work around them must be properly equipped with personal protective equipment in addition to having certain safety procedures implemented.

To protect workers from danger associated with the battery's weight, the batteries should only be removed and replaced from the forklifts using a special equipped forklift or battery cart specifically designed for transporting batteries, or an automatic battery charger.

Batteries that are being removed or replaced should be securely placed and restrained in the cart or the forklift. Use the correct tools and follow proper procedures when moving batteries. This will ensure that the battery remains stable and does not fall.

Batteries release oxygen and hydrogen gases when they are charging. This effect, called "out gassing" is more noticeable if the battery is being overcharged. In the right concentrations, these gases can be highly explosive. Due to this "out gassing" effect, charging stations should be located in well-ventilated areas, to prevent concentrations of hydrogen and oxygen from reaching volatile levels. General or local ventilation can be provided by a fume hood or an exhaust fan. If an on-board charging system is used, the industrial truck itself should be parked in a location where there is adequate ventilation.

Sulfuric acid is a common and hazardous component in a battery. In the event of a battery acid spill, neutralizing agents should be spread on the spill. These cleanup materials should be on hand at all times. After the spill is neutralized, it can be safely cleaned up and disposed of in accordance with local ordinances. Only properly trained and authorized employees should perform an acid cleanup.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Whenever changing or servicing a battery, personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn to prevent harm if an accident should occur. The first area of concern is the weight of the battery. To protect workers against drops, proper footwear, such as steel-toe boots should be worn.

Maintaining batteries by adding water or acid also requires appropriate protection. Chemical-resistant gloves, acid apron, eyewear and face protection are a must. They will reduce the risk of injury should an acid splash occur. As stated by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.133(a)(1),

"The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation."

Face protection must meet the ANSI Z87.1-1989 specifications or be proven equally effective. Face shields are considered as secondary eye protection only. Indirect or non-vented safety goggles should also be worn to protect the eyes.

An eye/face wash and shower are other required pieces of equipment that must be in or near a battery changing area. According to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151,

"...where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use."

According to ANSI Z358.1-2009, the eye/face wash and shower must be within 10 seconds in distance of the hazard and on the same level as that hazard. This unit needs to be clearly identified with proper signs and adequate lighting.

Basic Battery Changing and Charging Guidelines

In order to insure that battery changes are performed safely, certain steps should be taken. In 29 CFR 1910.178, OSHA has called out basic battery changing and charging guidelines:

(g) Changing and charging storage batteries.

  1. Battery charging installations shall be located in areas designated for that purpose.
  2. Facilities shall be provided for flushing and neutralizing spilled electrolyte, for fire protection, for protecting charging apparatus from damage by trucks, and for adequate ventilation for dispersal of fumes from gassing batteries.
  3. [Reserved]
  4. A conveyor, overhead hoist, or equivalent material handling equipment shall be provided for handling batteries.
  5. Reinstalled batteries shall be properly positioned and secured in the truck.
  6. A carboy tilter or siphon shall be provided for handling electrolyte.
  7. When charging batteries, acid shall be poured into water; water shall not be poured into acid.
  8. Trucks shall be properly positioned and brake applied before attempting to change or charge batteries.
  9. Care shall be taken to assure that vent caps are functioning. The battery (or compartment) cover(s) shall be open to dissipate heat.
  10. Smoking shall be prohibited in the charging area.
  11. Precautions shall be taken to prevent open flames, sparks or electric arcs in battery charging areas.
  12. Tools and other metallic objects shall be kept away from the top of uncovered batteries.
Q.   What type of gloves should be worn?
A.   Workers should wear chemical-resistant gloves. The common corrosive material encountered is sulfuric acid. If this is the case, neoprene gloves are normally sufficient. Check with the manufacturer's recommendations or e-mail Grainger's Product Support for a suggestion or confirmation.
 
Q.   Is wetness on the top of a battery a problem?
A.   Wetness around the terminals on a battery can be a sign of three things:
  • overfilling
  • excessive gassing during charging or
  • leaky seals

Not only can this be a hazard for workers but to the lift truck as well. Once wetness is detected, the problem should be corrected to prevent corrosion of the cell posts and other components. If this problem is left unattended, the top of the battery can become electrically conductive. Stray current flowing over the top of the batter drastically reduces the battery's performance.

 
Sources

29 CFR 1910.178, Powered Industrial Trucks

29 CFR 1910.151, Medical Services and First Aid

ANSI/ASME B56.1-1993, Safety Standards for Low Lift and High Lift Trucks, www.ansi.org

ANSI/NFPA 505, Powered Industrial Trucks Including Type, Area of Use, Maintenance and Operation, www.ansi.org

Powered Industrial Truck Owner's Manual

ANSI Z358.1-2004, www.ansi.org

(Rev. 11/2012)

 

Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at www.grainger.com/quicktips.

Think Safety. Think Grainger.®
Grainger has the products, services and resources to help keep employees safe and healthy while operating safer facilities. You’ll also find a network of safety resources that help you stay in compliance and protect employees from hazardous situations. Count on Grainger for lockout tagout, fall protection equipment, confined space products, safety signs, personal protective equipment (PPE), emergency response and so much more!

Please Note:
The content in this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific compliance questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.

©2012 W.W. Grainger, Inc.

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