Forklift battery safety

When you train your forklift operators, one of the topics that need to be discussed is the safe handling of batteries. OSHA has many regulations in this area. This issue focuses on several that must be followed.

OSHA 1910.178 (G)(11) requires that precautions shall be taken to prevent open flames, sparks or electric arcs in battery charging areas. One reason for this is that a battery produces hydrogen and oxygen gas when charging, and if that concentration of hydrogen gas gets above 4%, it can explode (4% is not a lot of gas). OSHA 1910.441(a)(2) requires that ventilation shall be provided to ensure diffusion on the gases from the battery and to prevent the accumulation of an explosive mixture.

Training will help ensure that the persons who will be handling the batteries are properly taught, reducing the potential for an accident. When training your forklift operators, many times they have to inspect their own water levels inside the battery. Your forklift safety training class should consist of the proper handling of batteries.

Even if the operators only have to inspect the water levels inside the battery, then certain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be available for them to use. OSHA 1926.441(a)(5) under general requirements states: 

Face shield with goggles worn underneath the shield, rubber apron and gloves.

A flashlight should only be used when checking water levels. A flashlight is not a heat or electrical source; therefore, the chance of a spark is greatly reduced. Using an incandescent light source could ignite the hydrogen gas that is produced from a charging battery. OSHA 1910.178(g)(12) states that tools and other metallic objects shall be kept away from the top on uncovered batteries. The top of a battery is not a table to rest tools on!

All metallic jewelry should be removed before working on or inspecting batteries. If a metal watchband touches the battery, an arc/spark could be created and cause the battery to explode. Even if the battery didn’t explode, a person could be severely burned from the melted jewelry.  NEVER use a cigarette lighter to check battery water levels and NO smoking at all in a battery charging area.

Instruct your operators to leave the seat hoods up on their forklifts or battery covers up while the battery is charging. Since hydrogen is lighter than air, it will rise up and dissipate, instead of accumulating under these covers in quantity and then the chance of spark igniting it is greater.

Facilities for quick drenching of the eyes and body shall be provided for within 25 feet of the battery handling area, according to OSHA 1926.441(a)(6). If your eyewash station is portable, then it must provide a flow of water at 0.4 gpm (gallons per minute) for at least 15 minutes. 

When we conduct training classes, many times we see companies using small bottles as an eyewash station only. These small bottles that can be purchased are a first step first aid to get the person to the proper eyewash station.

Your company must have a portable one that provides the flow of water as mentioned above, or one that connects directly to the water line in your facility. Your training should point out where the locations of the eyewash stations are and that the eyewash station should be the first immediate action to take should acid get in their eyes. Dilute the acid down as much as possible, then seek medical attention at a nearby medical facility.

Pulling batteries in and out of forklifts, then certain steps should be taken. OSHA 1910.178(g)(8) states:

Trucks shall be properly positioned and brakes applied before attempting to change or charge a battery.

A conveyor, overhead hoist or equivalent material handling equipment shall be provided for handling batteries as per OSHA 1910.178(g)(4). Whatever device is used, it should be made of a nonconductive material to prevent arcing should the device touch the top of the battery. You should never use a chain only to pull a battery out of a forklift.

When inspecting water levels on a stand-up style forklift, the battery has to be pushed out to either side to inspect the battery water levels. Using a battery rollout device will help to keep the battery from falling out onto the floor and possibly crushing a foot.

Finally, reinstalled batteries shall be properly positioned and secured in the truck, as per OSHA 1910.178(g)(5). A forklift battery is extremely heavy; some weigh up to 3,000 lbs. horrible crushing injuries could occur along with the chance of an explosion if people are not trained on the proper ways of handling batteries.

These battery safety rules should be taught in your forklift safety training classes. Following simple safety rules will help to reduce accidents in the battery charging/changing area and keep your company’s accident rate and costs down.

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Got Questions?

If you have a question on this or any topic related to safety with your forklift, give our resident expert, Dave Bennet, a call or fill out the request form.