Forklift Battery Charging
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Join HSI Chief Safety Officer Jill James as she visits environmental health and safety professionals in their workplaces to explore important workplace safety topics. This video explains why water is added to battery-powered forklifts, how to safely add water to these batteries, and what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed for this process.
Hi, I'm Jill, Chief Safety Officer with HSI. I'm a former OSHA inspector and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards. For this series we're at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, in the heart of the upper Midwest, to show you no matter where you work safety training is for everyone.
When I was an OSHA inspector, one of the common hazards I found had to do with charging batteries for forklifts. The most common hazard was lack of personal protective equipment and the proximity of an eye wash and shower station. Let's take a look today at how to protect yourself when doing this really common work. And joining me today I have Jerrod, who is a forklift operator here at the Beet Sugar Cooperative. And also, we have Ryan, who is a heavy equipment operator here at the plant.
So, Jerrod can you explain to us when it comes to battery powered forklifts, why do we need to add water to the batteries.
Well, these batteries have a lead plating in them that contain acid and the electrolytes in the water help the process during the charging, because when you're charging it, it releases oxygen and hydrogen gas. And the electrolytes just help contain that in the lead plate.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so, when we add water to them it can't just be any old regular tap water right? It has to be distilled water?
Yes, it has to be clean water, otherwise, if you're using tap water or unclean water it may have rust or other particles that may react violently with the acid that are in these batteries.
Sure. And so, the way that you add water to this particular set up is like a really modern version of a closed system. Can you describe how it works? How would you add water to these batteries?
This light here will tell me whether water needs to be added or not. If it's green the water level is fine. If it turns red, basically what we would do is we would go through a full charge on the system that way it's fully charged. And then we would just basically open this up here and then you would plug this in here and as soon as you plug this in, the pressure plate inside this line will activate and it will fill the water level and it will fill each battery one at a time until it is completely done with all of them.
In a sequence, okay.
Yes, and you don't even have to stand here when you do it. It's an automatic fill and it will stop when they're all full.
And this hose is connected to a distilled water tank?
Okay. And so, when you're doing this kind of operation and set up, what sort of personal protective equipment do you need to be wearing? It's a closed system, but you still need some kind of protection right?
Yes. With this it's a lot easier than the older method. All you really need is a pair of gloves and some safety glasses, because once you plug this in it's all contained, and if there's no leaks you don't even have to do anything.
Mm-hmm (affirmative) and so you'd wear gloves that would protect you from acids?
Yes, any kind of chemical glove that would protect against acids.
Sure. And then the system just fills one battery after another and you disconnect?
So, just in case something happened when you're making the disconnect?
Just in case there's a small leak in one of these lines.
Sure, you'd want to have the gloves.
You would want to have that, because you never have to take these caps off, so you should not be in any immediate danger with any acid. So long as these are completely closed, the water just goes through each one of these lines.
Okay. So, Ryan not all batteries on forklift systems have this nice closed system. Some you still have to do what you might call the old fashioned way, which some of the people who are listening and watching to this safety tip video may ... that might be their situation. So, can you explain, Ryan, how does it work when you don't have a closed system like this? How do you add that electrolytes?
On the older systems it has the batteries, it has the same each one, in the center instead of it having a line that goes to it, it was a cap that you'd have to remove and once you removed it then you would look in there to see what the water level is. And if it was low, then you would have to use a funnel and then a jug of-
A jug of distilled water.
... distilled water. Pour it in there and then keep pulling that out, checking to see the water level.
Wow, so you'd have to do that for each individual battery, not like the system that you have.
So, tell us what kind of personal protective equipment would you need to be wearing if you're putting the electrolyte or the distilled water in batteries using that method?
For that one, then you're going to want to have an apron or rain suit, your safety glasses, and then a face shield. Of course, your rubber gloves, just in case anything happens, splashes out, whatnot.
Sure, and then if there was an exposure to battery acid, then what's important to remember is that you need to have an eye wash and shower station within a 10 second travel distance to where you're doing this kind of work, or 55 feet, which is an important thing to keep in mind, that you want to be able to have that ability to get that battery acid off of your skin. Here at the Beet Sugar Cooperative, not only do they have piped and plumbed eye wash and shower stations, but they also have a portable unit that you can take with you to wherever your hazard might be or wherever you're doing work where you may have an exposure and you need an eyewash station nearby where you are.
So, anything else by way of safety tips or explaining how this works, Jerrod, that you'd like to share?
Not really. That pretty much covers it. This system is a lot simpler. As you can see there are a lot of batteries here. And if you had to do one at a time, you would be here for 20 to 30 minutes.
It would take a while.
And this system, you don't even have to be here and it takes three to five minutes.
Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us today. And I'd like to remind the audience that depending on the kind of system that you have to choose the right kind of personal protective equipment to be able to protect you from the hazards that you're working with and check that distance with your eye wash station and make sure you're within a 10 second travel distance when you're doing this kind of work.
I hope you gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this, go ahead and pass it on. Safety is everyone's business.