Battery powered equipment is commonplace in industry today. However, batteries present hazards that can cause serious injury or death to workers. Batteries are safe, but caution is necessary when touching damaged cells and when handling lead acid systems that have access to lead and sulfuric acid. Several countries label lead acid as hazardous material, and rightly so. Lead can be a health hazard if not properly handled.
Batteries contain acid and can explode and/or catch on fire. In the event of a battery explosion or fire, acid and toxic fumes are released. When acid contacts the skin, extremely painful burns and scarring result. When these fumes are breathed, the lungs are burned from the toxic chemicals present in fumes. Blindness will likely result if this acid contacts the eye. These physical injuries are irreversible. Therefore, when working with batteries, it is important to prevent exposure by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
Hazards in Batteries:
Given the nature of chemical substances used in batteries and the processes that occur on charge, discharge and an open circuit various hazards may be created. These hazards are of a chemical or mechanical nature. Electrical hazards are of little importance. An exception is the generation of sparks from batteries which may ignite nearby flammable gases or liquids. The mechanical hazards are generally caused by chemical or electromechanical reaction that triggers ruptures or explosions.
- Lead acid batteries can cause serious injury if not handled correctly. Gases released when batteries are charging – hydrogen (very flammable and easily ignited) and oxygen (supports combustion) – can result in an explosion.
- The acid used as an electrolyte in batteries is also very corrosive and can cause injuries if it comes into contact with workers.
- Electrolyte that has been spilled can also cause significant damage to property and the environment.
Hazards of working with batteries may include:
- Electrolyte (acid) being splashed/spilled onto the body (including eyes)
- An explosion due to ignition of gases both inside and outside the battery.
During the life of a battery, different groups of individuals may be at risk if accident occurs
- Manufacturing workers
- Personnel involved with storage, transportation, installation and charging of batteries
- Battery users
- Battery recyclers
When batteries are being charged, explosive gases are produced. Heat and sparks can ignite these gases causing a fire or explosion. All smoking, open flames, and spark producing items such as grinders, welders, or other electrical equipment, should be kept well clear of batteries. Surface leakage is a condition caused when dust mixes with spilled electrolyte on the battery, creating a low resistance path. This low resistance path can “short” the battery. Batteries should be kept clean and free of excess dust to protect against shorting.
- Exercise care in connecting the battery charger to the Battery. Connecting the wrong polarity (red/+ to black/-) may cause a short-circuit which could result in explosion of the battery. Connect red/+ to red/+ and black/- to black/- and always follow the charger’s manufacturer’s operating instructions.
- Ensure that the battery charging circuit is de-energized before making your connections. Once the connections are made, turn the charging circuit on.
Information, instruction and Training:
- Store batteries in a cool, well-ventilated area away from ignition sources (e.g. welding, smoking)
- If the battery case is broken, avoid contact with internal components
- Do not handle batteries near heat, sparks or open flames
- Protect containers from physical damage to avoid leaks and spills
- Place cardboard or a spill tray between layers of stacked batteries to avoid damage and short circuits
- Strictly follow all instructions and diagrams when installing or maintaining battery systems
- Do not allow conductive material to touch battery terminals. A dangerous short-circuit may occur and cause battery failure and fire. If installed batteries are at risk of metal tools or other conductive materials touching terminals, then the terminals should be insulated
- Tools or cables should not be placed on batteries or in an area where they can fall onto the terminals.
- Only insulated tools should be used
- When working on batteries, workers must not wear items of jewellery (e.g. watches, rings) as they may short out the terminals
- Make sure correct battery terminals are used
- Use an appropriate strap or cradle to carry batteries. Never carry them by their terminal posts.