Rechargeable forklift batteries are the greenest source of motive power available. Electric forklifts produce far fewer greenhouse gasses than lift trucks powered by internal combustion, and they eliminate the need for engine fluid changes. Most importantly, they’re safer for workers and almost entirely recyclable — in fact, most of the lead used in forklift batteries is recycled.
Still, the amount of electrolyte required to provide clean power to your fleets can become an ecological risk when handled improperly. While lead acid batteries are a safe power source, battery spills require immediate attention, and it’s important to limit risks with appropriate preventative measures.
A few simple precautions can help to prevent disaster so that your operation can enjoy the benefits of battery power while minimizing risks:
- Charge batteries only in the designated battery room. Properly constructed battery rooms contain ventilation systems to prevent the buildup of gases, and are designed to prevent fires, sparks and other hazards. They should also store emergency equipment, such as eyewash stations and spill kits, in accordance with OSHA regulations. BHS provides a ventilation calculator to allow for easier planning in battery rooms.
- Use appropriate battery handling equipment for battery changes. For overhead battery extraction, always use a gantry crane with a weight limit that exceeds the battery’s weight. Side-extraction forklifts require battery extractors or transfer carriages that meet all weight requirements. It is important to match battery changing equipment to your fleet; dropped units could break open and cause a battery spill.
- Use signage to label important areas in the battery room. Signage is one of the most important (but often overlooked) battery room improvements. By installing signs that indicate the location of the spill kit, shower eye wash, fire extinguisher, and other components, you can ensure a timely response to an emergency and create a proactive attitude towards battery safety.
- Wear personal protective equipment when handling batteries. Even the most careful operators may occasionally encounter electrolyte splashes during forklift battery maintenance, changing or charging tasks. Stay protected with acid-resistant clothing, including a face shield, safety goggles, gloves, an apron and boots.
What to Do During a Battery Spill
If all of your preventative measures fail and a battery breaks or leaks, never panic. Grab the spill kit (required by OSHA regulation 1926.441) and follow these steps:
- Neutralize the spilled acid. A product like BHS AcidSorb provides the reassurance of indicating neutralization by changing color, but in an emergency, you could also use baking soda or soda ash (dilute with one pound of baking soda per gallon of water).
- Check the pH in the spill. If it reads between 6 and 8, the acid is neutralized. Soak up the neutralized spill with an absorbent material, such as a polypropylene roll, chemical pads or, in the absence of specialized equipment, clay.
- Clean the affected battery. Rinse residue off the battery tray surface, making sure to brush beneath the battery connectors clean.
- Make a full report about the incident, providing all relevant details. Inform your supervisor or the warehouse manager and contact a local environmental authority to determine the best way to dispose of the battery spill waste. A list of EPA-sanctioned state programs can be found at http://www.epa.gov/wastes/wyl/stateprograms.htm.
Any forklift power source carries risks, but lead-acid batteries are a safe and ecologically friendly option for operations of all sizes. By planning your battery room properly and by quickly reacting to leaks and spills, you can keep your facility safe, productive and green.