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The Basics of Battery Safety

Written by William C. Shumay Jr. for Arcon Equipment Inc., published in the Material Handling Wholesaler
copyright © William C. Shumay Jr.
For more articles, please visit http://www.arconequipment.com

Although no one article can cover all safety issues associated with forklift batteries, the following can be considered a brief overview of battery safety when used in conjunction with manufacturers» recommendations and OSHA guidelines.

Safety starts with awareness of the basic characteristics of most forklift batteries. Batteries are extremely heavy for their size, typically 2,000 to 4,000 lb. for a battery in an average lift truck. This makes proper lifting and handling procedures an important safety issue. Most lead-acid batteries can potentially expose personnel to sulfuric acid mist or splash droplets during watering. Conventional vented lead-acid batteries produce a small but explosive combination of hydrogen and oxygen gas during operation and charging that merits caution as well.

Handling Heavy Batteries

All Lifting Equipment used to move batteries for service, or from lift truck to charging rack, must be expressly designed for that purpose and should be clearly labeled with weight capacity limits. The heavy loads involved do not leave much margin for sub-standard equipment, and the danger to personnel from lifting equipment failure is great. Your battery supplier can make recommendations on appropriate battery handling equipment.

Instruction on safe handling procedures is important. It is strongly recommended that personnel stay well clear during lifting or pulling, and avoid hand-guiding batteries when possible. Safe footing is very important, and this can be difficult to maintain in some locations that manually water batteries in the battery handling area. Also, overfilling of batteries (which results in overflow during charging) can leave a dilute acid residue on the floor.

Do not lay tools upon, or allow hoist chain to rest on top of uncovered batteries. Batteries should not be handled with insulating covers missing from battery intercell connecting straps.

Make sure that tugging of batteries onto roller-equipped trucks and racks is not done by pulling on the battery’s lifting ears or electrical cables. All batteries that need to move on rollers should be equipped with "chest handles" welded to the mid-point of the battery case on each end. Chest handles are used only for tugging, not lifting.

Gloves, hardhat and eye protection are god precautions during battery handling. Also recommended is frequent inspection of all load carrying equipment, with attention to proper leveling of roller-racks and the repair of any corrosion-damaged hardware

Battery Watering Safety

Because battery cells contain sulfuric acid, eyes and skin need to be protected during manual watering operations from the potential for splashing. A face shield, acid resistant gloves and apron are recommended. Good ventilation will help prevent inhalation of acid fumes or mist, and will reduce accumulation of hydrogen gas in the work area. Adequate lighting is important if filling level is being gauged by eye. Remember that sulfuric acid quickly eats through cotton clothing and gloves.

An important tool that can speed up watering and enhance accuracy and safety is an auto-shutoff hose-end nozzle for manual battery watering. Various manufacturers offer complete battery watering systems that use flexible plumbing on top of the battery to automate the process. Battery watering systems are especially important for batteries in truck compartments that are difficult to access. A battery watering system speeds up the process considerably and enhances safety by eliminating personnel exposure to open battery cells.

Avoid Sparks and Arcs

As mentioned, conventional lead-acid batteries vent hydrogen and oxygen gas. This is a hazard when a spark or other ignition source is brought close to the top of a battery. Hydrogen, the lightest of gases, dissipates quickly and is not usually a problem at distances of a few feet or more from a battery, but crowded battery charging areas should be evaluated for adequate ventilation (see your battery manufacturer for recommendations).

Batteries should have plastic shrouds on all metal conductors, and all cables should be kept in top condition with no visible cuts or bare copper showing. Adhesive electric tape is not considered a safe repair.

No connector replacement or repair work should take place near the top of the battery. Smoking near batteries is not recommended.

When replacing battery connectors, wear gloves and be aware that cable tips can create a blinding, burning arc if they contact each other. Use care and keep your fingers clear.

Because of the hazards described above, leave all repair work that deals with the top of the battery (such as cable replacement) to professional battery technicians.

Safety education, good housekeeping and safe, well-maintained equipment are the basis for plant safety–this approach will serve you well in supporting safe battery operations.

For more information, contact Arcon Equipment Inc. (440) 232-1422.

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