Charging forklift batteries requires training and caution due to the batteries’ weight, the corrosive sulfuric acid contained within, the possibility of explosive hydrogen fumes, and the chance of electric shocks on unprotected exposure.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard, 29 CFR 1910.178(g), lays out the safety requirements for forklift battery charging areas.
1. Battery charging should be done in a place designated for that purpose only. 29 CFR 1910.178(g)(1).
2. Battery charging areas should be adequately ventilated to disperse fumes. Such areas should also be equipped to flush and neutralize spilled electrolytes, with fire protection equipment, and to protect the charging apparatus from damage by trucks. 29 CFR 1910.178(g)(2).
Hydrogen gas is always present during battery charging, and hydrogen gas is explosive. As such, you should take precautions to prohibit open flames, sparks, or electric arcs in the battery charging areas, and provide good ventilation so that the hydrogen gas doesn’t concentrate.
Spills are another potential hazard. To prepare for spills, have ample and readily accessible water, and use neutralizing agents like baking soda or soda ash to neutralize spilled sulfuric acid. For larger spills, workers must contact the fire department to control the spill accurately and prevent any environmental damage in the process.
A dry chemical, CO2 or foam fire extinguisher must be at hand too. Mark safety equipment like fire extinguishers with proper signage to ensure workers can spot them quickly.
3. Given how heavy batteries are, they should be handled using a conveyor, an overhead hoist, or an equivalent equipment. 1910.178(g)(4)
This minimizes dangers to workers and the battery itself. When handling batteries using cane, workers should also wear hard hats to protect themselves against impact hazards.
4. Electrolytes should be handled using a carboy tilter or siphon. 1910.178(g)(6)
5. When charging batteries, never pour water into acid. Always pour acid into water. 1910.178(g)(7)
A safety warning sign like this can keep this point fresh in a worker’s mind during battery charging operations.
6. Trucks should be properly positioned with brakes applied before charging begins. 1910.178(g)(8)
7. Battery vent caps should be checked to ensure their proper functioning. Battery covers should be open for heat to escape. 1910.178(g)(9)
8. Smoking must be prohibited in battery charging areas. 1910.178(g)(10)
Post a clear and conspicuous warning sign like this one to prevent smoking and open flames. A sign with appropriate graphics gets the message across more swiftly.
9. As mentioned earlier, other ignition sources such as welding sparks and fumes, gas burners must be kept away from this area. 1910.178(g)(11)
10. Metallic objects including tools should be kept away from uncovered batteries. 1910.178(g)(12). Workers should remove metallic wearables like watch, all jewelry, and fitness bands. when working with batteries.
Place this sign near battery chargers to alert workers of this rule. You can also create a custom sign specific to other metallic objects your workers may have on them.
1. Eyewash stations with a 15-minute continuous flow must be provided near battery charging units. Such stations should be close to the battery charging area, within a walking distance of 10 seconds or less.) The eyewash station should be in a well-lit area, unobstructed, and marked with conspicuous signage.
For larger installations, OSHA requires a plumbed drench shower along with an eyewash station.
2. Personal protective equipment including goggles, face shield, rubber or neoprene gloves, rubber aprons, and safety toe footwear should be provided to protect workers against electrolyte splashes and electrical shocks.
3. Medical services and first aid should be at hand. If a hospital, infirmary, or clinic is not close to the facility, employers must ensure that employees are adequately trained to administer first aid to victims before they are transported to a hospital.
Check OSHA’s recommended practices for safe forklift charging procedure and battery maintenance for more details.