Forklift Battery Changing Station Safety
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 (which virtually eliminate the hazards associated with carbon monoxide), this type of truck is becoming 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 electric-powered industrial truck you have, there are similar hazards associated with their batteries and their maintenance. Electric industrial trucks are powered by large lead-acid batteries, which must be routinely charged and changed. Suggested practices for charging and changing batteries are:
- Designate an area for the purpose of battery charging
- Make sure that the industrial truck is charged before using
- Recognize that heavy loads drain the battery more quickly
Only trained personnel should change and charge batteries in electric industrial trucks. In addition to training in battery changing and charging procedures, these employees should be trained on emergency procedures in the event of an acid splash, including how to use eyewash and shower facilities. Potential hazards include:
- Batteries are very heavy and pose a dropping hazard–some batteries weigh as much as 2,000 pounds or more
- Batteries contain sulfuric acid that is highly corrosive and could be splashed on personnel servicing or changing batteries
- Toward the end of the battery charging process, batteries can give off highly explosive hydrogen gas. This is commonly called “out gassing”
- Contact with battery cells may cause electrical short circuits in certain situations, which can burn unprotected skin
In order to ensure that battery changes are performed safely, certain steps should be taken. Always follow your facility's specific safety procedures. Follow the recharger manufacturer's recommendations for attaching and removing cables and for proper operation of your equipment.
In Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.178 (Powered Industrial Truck), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls out the following basic battery changing and charging guidelines:
- Properly position trucks and apply brakes before attempting to change or charge batteries [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(8)]
- Use a lifting beam or equivalent material handling equipment when lifting the battery and do not use a chain with two hooks as this may cause distortion and internal damage [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(4)]
- Charge batteries in the designated battery charging area [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(1)]
- Provide facilities 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 [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(2)]
- When charging batteries - pour acid into water, never pour water into acid [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(7)]
- Care shall be taken to assure that vent caps are functioning and the battery (or compartment) cover(s) must be open to dissipate heat [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(9)]
- Prohibit smoking in the charging area [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(10)]
- Take precautions to prevent open flames, sparks, or electric arcs in battery charging areas [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(11)]
- Remove all metallic jewelry before recharging and tools and other metallic objects must be kept away from the top of uncovered batteries [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(12)]
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) (face shield, safety goggles, gloves and apron) [29 CFR 1910.132]
- 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 must be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use [29 CFR 1910.151(c)]
- Check the electrolyte level before recharging; check the specific gravity with a hydrometer; record it in the service log and check the pilot cell
- Check the water level - do not add water prior to recharging - record level in service log
- Check the voltage and if the battery has sealed vents, do not recharge with a current greater than 25 amperes
- Unplug and turn off the charger before connecting or disconnecting the clamp connections
- Attach the positive clamp (+, usually colored red) to the positive terminal first and then the negative clamp (-, usually colored black) to the negative terminal, keeping the proper polarity
- Turn off the charger if the battery becomes hot or the electrolyte fluid comes out of the vents and restart charging at a lower charging rate
- Check water level after charging and add distilled water or de-ionized water if water level is below level indicator - record in service log
- Return battery to forklift with lifting beam and secure in place after charging [29 CFR 1910.178(g)(4) and (g)(5)]
- Check the indicator on the hour meter to see that battery is fully charged
Flammable hydrogen gas is always present during battery recharging. Ignition and/or explosion of accumulated hydrogen gas is possible. Take the following steps to prevent this from happening:
- Post no smoking signs
- Use non-sparking tools
- Prevent open flames, sparks or electrical arcs in the charging area
- Provide adequate ventilation
- Open the battery cover when charging so that the hydrogen gas can vent
Whenever changing or servicing a battery 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 a dropped battery, proper safety footwear that meets ASTM F2413-2011 impact and compression requirements should be considered.
Other potential hazards include acid splash/corrosive burns and acid spills.
To prevent acid splash and corrosive burns to the body always wear appropriate PPE as determined in the PPE hazard assessment required in 29 CFR 1910.132(d)(1). Suggested minimum PPE includes:
- Indirect vented / chemical splash goggles and a faceshield
- Acid-resistant gloves–verify resistance to sulfuric acid with the supplier
- Acid-resistant apron / clothing–verify resistance to sulfuric acid with the supplier
- Acid-resistant footwear–verify resistance to sulfuric acid with the supplier
In the event of an acid exposure ensure your facility is required to have procedures in place to treat a victim for:
- Splash to the eyes
- Splash to the skin
In the event of an acid spill, OSHA recommends:
- Neutralize the spill with soda ash or baking soda–use one pound of baking soda to one gallon of water
- The acid reaction is complete when it stops fizzing–make certain that the acid is neutralized by checking the pH (neutral is between six and eight)
- Absorb neutralized material onto clay or other absorbent material, if necessary and if the spill is very large, contain the spill with earth or clay dikes
- Brush under the battery connectors and remove all grime and rinse the residue from the battery with clean water with a hose
- Report the incident to your supervisor
- Determine proper disposal by contacting local environmental authorities
Not only can this be a hazard for workers but to the battery-operated equipment 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.
29 CFR 1910.178, Powered Industrial Trucks
29 CFR 1910.151, Medical Services and First Aid
Powered Industrial Truck etool: Fundamentals of Electric Type. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. September 2008.
Powered Industrial Truck Owner's Manual
ANSI Z358.1-2014, www.ansi.org
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.
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The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.
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