Many workplaces use powered industrial trucks to move material throughout the facility. Battery powered lifts are becoming more common in many small to medium sized businesses. Let’s discuss some of the safety aspects related to the battery maintenance/charging process.
Maintaining batteries, by adding water or acid, requires appropriate protection. Chemical-resistant gloves, aprons, eyewear, and face protection are required according to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.133(a)(1),
"The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation."
Face protection must meet the ANSI Z87.1-1989 specifications or be proven equally effective. Indirect or non-vented safety goggles should be worn. Face shields are considered as secondary eye protection only. An eye wash and shower are other required pieces of equipment that must be in or near a battery charging area per OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151,
"...where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use." The eye wash and shower must be within 10 seconds of the hazard and on the same level and shall be clearly identified with proper signs and lighting.
Batteries release highly explosive oxygen and hydrogen gases when they are charging. Due to this "out gassing" effect, charging stations should be located in well-ventilated areas. General or local ventilation can be provided by a fume hood or an exhaust fan. If an on-board charging system is used, the industrial truck itself should be parked in a location where there is adequate ventilation. It is also appropriate to prohibit smoking or open flames in the charging area.
More detailed information can be found in the OSHA Powered Industrial Truck standard (29 CFR 1910.178) and in your fork lift Owner’s Manual.