Interpreting OSHA General Industry Regulations for Safe Battery Handling
Regulations are a big part of running your facility, and regardless of your industry, OSHA guidelines are especially important.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at these detailed (and occasionally confusing) guidelines and try to provide a general overview. Remember, if you need to ensure compliance, you may need to consult with OSHA officials or hire a qualified expert. See our first blog for information regarding the different OSHA industry-specific standards.
OSHA standard number 1910.178, subsection G, establishes guidelines for updating battery handling equipment, planning a battery room, and establishing appropriate battery changing procedures. It consists of 11 entries, and if your operation uses lift trucks in any capacity, these standards will assist with maintaining full compliance with OSHA requirements while providing the safest working environment for battery room attendants and forklift operators.
Regulations that provide more detail about first aid and eyewash stations, fire extinguisher placement, personal protective equipment and ventilation requirements are found elsewhere in Part 1910 of the OSHA standards. Before we address these additional safety requirements, here is a brief explanation of the contents of 29 CFR 1910.178(g), which forms the core of the OSHA requirements for battery handling practices in general industry applications.
Complying With OSHA 1910.178(g) – Changing and Charging Storage Batteries
The regulations contained within OSHA 1910.178(g) address the procedures and equipment required to prevent accidents during battery changing and charging tasks
These are the practices that can help maintain compliance with these standards:
Only charge batteries in the charging room. Placing chargers outside of designated areas violates 29 CFR 1910.178(g)(1). Keeping all charging tasks in a designated area makes it easier to control ventilation and post safety equipment within reach.
Build safety features into the battery room. Battery charging areas must include plenty of safety equipment, including spill kits, fire extinguishers, and barriers that protect battery chargers from forklift impact. Regulation 1910.178(g)(2) also mandates “adequate ventilation” in battery charging areas.
Provide employees with the right battery handling equipment. The fourth regulation in OSHA standard 1910.178(g) requires a “conveyor, overhead hoist, or equivalent material handling equipment” to assist workers in moving forklift batteries.
Since this regulation was written, side extraction forklift battery compartments have become much more common. Modern forklift battery extractors fall under the “equivalent material handling equipment” language, and are a crucial component in any facility that uses lift trucks with side-extraction battery compartments.
Secure batteries in lift trucks according to the manufacturer’s design. This may seem like common sense, but minor issues can cause violations, and some forklift operators may forget to replace the restraining device on the battery compartment after a change-out. OSHA regulation 1910.178 (g)(5) mandates securing batteries within trucks, and a letter of interpretation from 2003 clarifies that batteries must be restrained “as originally intended by the manufacturer.”
Provide Equipment for the Safe Handling of Electrolyte. The sulphuric acid in battery electrolyte poses a significant health risk when not handled properly, and OSHA regulation 1910.178 (g)(6) insists that facilities provide equipment that prevents workers from having to risk spills by manually lifting containers of acid. This regulation mandates the provision of a tilter or a siphon to keep workers safe when handling electrolyte.
Pour acid into water, not the other way around. Because of the reactive properties of sulfuric acid, the water in a strong acidic solution can boil and fizz, creating spillover. When acid is poured into water, the solution is weaker, and the risk of spilling electrolyte is reduced. OSHA regulation 1910.178 (g)(7) mandates the safer option when mixing battery electrolyte.
Secure trucks before changing batteries. OSHA regulation 1910.178 (g)(8) states that industrial trucks should be “properly positioned” with brakes engaged before workers start changing batteries. The safety implications are obvious; less obvious are ways to make compliance easier.
Designated parking areas for lift trucks along with raised barriers, such as BHS Protective Rails, allow operators to position trucks safely and easily.
Check all heat-dissipating devices before charging. Overheating is not only bad for battery life spans, in extreme situations it can lead to explosions. The ninth regulation in 29 CFR 1910.178(g) attempts to prevent dangerous heat accumulation by requiring workers to check battery vent caps and open battery compartment covers when heat builds.
No smoking in battery charging areas. At certain points during the charging process, batteries emit a highly flammable combination of hydrogen and oxygen. As 29 CFR 1910.178(g)(10) indicates, smoking must be prohibited. Make sure to include clear no smoking signs in all battery charging areas.
Also, no other ignition sources in the battery room. Cigarettes are not the only sources of flame or sparks. Covering all bases, 29 CFR 1910.178(g)(11) mandates measures to prevent any electrical arcs, sparks, or fire from the battery charging area.
Keep metal jewelry and tools away from batteries. When metal touches a forklift battery terminal it causes an electrical discharge. If that metal is touching a worker’s skin, they can receive serious burns or shocks. That is why the final regulation in OSHA standard 1910.178(g)(12) warns staff against allowing tools or “other metallic objects” such as jewelry to get close to battery terminals.
Some readers will have noticed that the above guide skipped from 1910.178(g)(2) to 1910.178(g)(4). This is not a typo — OSHA regulation 1910.178(g)(3) is currently reserved for future changes to the code.
Safety Equipment in the Battery Room
As mentioned, plenty of other OSHA standards come into play in the battery room. Not only are there the regulations related to battery handling in construction applications (29 CFR 1926.441), there are also still some standards related to safety equipment and ventilation contained in the General Industry section of the OSHA rules.
The next post in this series will cover the remaining sections of OSHA 1910 that relate to forklift battery handling, including 29 CFR 1910.132, 29 CFR 1910.151, 29 CFR 1910.157, and 29 CFR 1910.305(j)(7).