hazard sign for forklift battery safety including risk of acid burn

Safety should always be a priority when charging, handling or using a forklift battery. A forklift battery is heavy, contains sulfuric acid and the gases given off during charging can explode! All good reasons to be cautious and vigilant.

Following guide covers the main safety points to consider.

| Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn at all times when working on or with forklift batteries. The PPE should protect personnel from acid spills and splashes. It should contain:

  • Goggles or face shield
  • Rubber or neoprene gloves
  • Apron
  • Boots
personal protective equipment for working on a forklift battery including face shield, gloves and apron
Forklift Battery PPE

| Forklift Battery Hazards

The forklift battery can pose 4 main hazards during changing, charging or use:

  1. Battery weight. Forklift batteries are extremely heavy with some weighing over 2 tons. Even a typical pallet truck battery can weigh a couple of hundred kg. If you change batteries on your forklift then there is always a risk of crushing or trapping of an individual. And personnel need to be careful of straining themselves if physically moving the battery.
  2. Battery Acid. The liquid inside of a forklift battery cell is a mixture of water and sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid can cause serious chemical burns on contact with the skin or eyes. Always make sure personnel are wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment when working on forklift batteries.
  3. Explosive Gases. When a forklift battery is charged, some of the water in the battery breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen gas through a process of electrolysis. Build up of the hydrogen gas can be in concentrations that pose an explosion risk. Make sure the battery is being charged in a well ventilated space. For facilities charging large quantities of trucks together then a dedicated ventilation system may be required.
  4. Electricity. Sounds obvious but a forklift battery holds a large amount of electrical energy, which if discharged unexpectedly can cause damage to the battery, injure personnel and be a source of ignition. Ensure that chargers are turned off before disconnecting a battery and that work tools are properly insulated to prevent causing a short circuit.

| Forklift Battery Charging

Charging of a forklift battery poses several safety risks. It is a time when the operator has to come into contact with the battery, truck and charging system so extra vigilance should be taken.

Ventilation. Hydrogen gas is given off during battery charging and the charging area should be well ventilated to reduce the buildup of this gas. If the battery remains in the truck during charging then make sure the battery lid is open.

Turn Off Charger. If the battery is disconnected from the charger during charge there is a risk of “sparking” or “arcing” as the contact tips of the battery and charger connectors disconnect. This could provide a source of ignition to any hydrogen buildup. Also the arcing can cause pitting damage.

Connector/Harness Damage: During battery charging and changing there is an increased risk of damage being caused to the forklift battery connector and/or harness. Equipment should be installed to support the battery/charger cable harnesses and care should be taken not to drop or trap the connector/harness.
Before preparing a battery for charging the connector and harness should be inspected for damage as exposed cables pose a risk of electrocution.

| Forklift Battery Changing

In some applications it will be necessary to have more than 1 battery per forklift truck, which means that the batteries will need changing over at some point. Changing of forklift batteries poses a significant health risk if done incorrectly.

Space: Always ensure you have sufficient space to carry out the changing operation. You will need to have clear access around the truck and for any lifting appliance to be able to move freely within the space.

Equipment. You can buy bespoke forklift battery changing equipment, you need to make sure you have what is applicable to your operation. The equipment ranges from a simple hook system that attaches to the forks of another truck, this is suitable for infrequent changes. At the other end you have multi level change systems that have a dedicated changing machine and are designed for handling hundreds of battery changes every day.

Make sure what you have is suitable for both the battery sizes and weights it has to handle as well as the frequency of battery changes.

The UK the Health and Safety Executive produced this useful guide which contains information on the risk of moving/lifting heavy loads and how to calculate what is an acceptable risk – Manual Handling at Work

| Safety During Forklift Battery Maintenance.

Lead acid forklift batteries require maintenance to ensure the electrolyte level is maintained. During maintenance there is an increased risk of the operator coming into contact with the sulfuric acid and from electric shock from exposed cables.

PPE. Make sure all personnel wear the correct personal protective equipment, that there is suitable means for rinsing any acid that has come into contact with them and that there is suitable means of containing and neutralising any acid spill.

Battery Filling Systems. There are forklift battery filling systems available “that remove or limit the operators exposure to the battery acid during maintenance. Fitting of these should be considered to improve your sites safety.

Visual Inspection. The operator should visually inspect the battery prior to commencing any maintenance work on the battery. They should look for damage to:

  • Connector/plug
  • Harness
  • Intercell connectors
  • Battery filling system
  • Battery tank

| Emergency Safety Showers

It is advisable to have a safety shower in the battery changing/charging area to be used in the event of personnel coming into contact with battery acid. The purpose of the shower is to quickly dilute the acid and wash it away, preventing tissue damage. These can be plumbed in or self contained, and have a combination of body shower and/or eye wash. They should be placed adjacent to the changing/charging area and be easily accessed.

shower used in forklift battery charging rooms in the event of an acid spill. combines shower and eye wash
Forklift Battery Safety Shower

| Forklift Battery Acid Spill

There is a risk of a acid spill should the battery tip over or the tank corrode through. In the event of a battery spill it is advisable to have equipment to contain it and to neutralise the acid.

forklift battery acid spill absorbent powder
Acid Spill Powder

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