Automotive Batteries in a mechanical workshop.
The common automotive battery posses a number of safety risks that perhaps are not well known or at times not well managed.
Let’s go through some of the issues with automotive batteries to see how there associated risks can be managed.
The common automotive battery is what is classed as a lead acid battery, meaning that it has plates of lead inside as well as a mixture of sulphuric acid and distilled water.
Each time the battery is discharged through either starting the vehicle, using the headlights or radio etc it will need to be recharged.
As a battery is charging it gives off a small amount of hydrogen gas and this is potentially dangerous as hydrogen gas is extremely volatile or explosive
When this happens in a motor vehicle it is not such a problem as the battery is nearly always in an air flow of some type which disperses the gas thus eliminating the problem.
When batteries are charged inside a building and specifically a workshop there can be a lack of ventilation removing this from the area thus causing the potential for an explosion if the gas was to be ignited.
What can be done to reduce this risk?
Ensure that the battery charging area is well ventilated to the outside air.
If this is not possible due to the location within the building install an exhaust fan or another type of ventilation system to remove any build up of gas in the area.
The battery charging area should be located away from a general traffic area with correct signage indicating that it is a restricted area.
There should be a 1st aid kit including an eye wash module in close proximity and that all staff are trained in there use.
Ensure that there is the correct type of fire extinguisher (s) mounted just outside of the area with correct signage and that all staff are trained in their use.
Ensure that your battery charging equipment is in good working order and that it has been tested and tagged for electrical compliance, usually every 6 months.
Ensure that your staff are correctly trained in how to use the battery charging and load testing equipment.
When not in use keep the battery charger leads and clips, clipped onto the bench or work area to reduce the risk of being caught or being tripped over.
Remove where possible the small water filler caps on top of the battery so that the water level and the specific gravity can be checked (using a hydrometer), with the caps removed this also eliminates any pressure build up within the battery due to the gas production while charging.
The area needs to kept clean and tidy at all times with o storage of metal objects within the area, this eliminates the risk of a metal object falling across a batteries terminals and causing a spark and in some cases an explosion.
Always keep you battery charging area free from other chemicals, oils, greases and any other flammable material, including oily work shop rags.
Always wash dirty batteries before charging as some acid residue and scum can cause voltage leakage.
Always wash hands after handling batteries as some residual acid may contact the skin causing irritation or discomfort.
Always keep a pair of gloves and safety glasses in the area for use by any staff member.
Always keep terminal cleaning equipment in the charging area (wire brush & specific terminal cleaners).
If you ever carry out battery terminal repairs using the carbon arch method use extreme caution. To find out more about this send a question to the email, address at the bottom of this article.
When moving or lifting batteries always use correct posture and manual handling methods: E.G. use trolleys to move around, use two people to lift the bigger batteries, use benches that are at the correct height so there is no excessive bending or reaching up.
If your battery charging area is somewhat hidden away out of clear site you can set up a warning light on top of the area to signal that there is a battery on charge. This can reduce the incidents of staff leaving work for the day and leaving a battery charging over night, as this is not recommended. The warning light is generally a 12 volt low power draw light (LED is best) connected to the battery that is being charged.
Have clear signage on the outside of the battery charging area indicating what the battery area is and a set of clear guidelines or instructions on what and what not to do in this area..
Any old batteries should be discarded as soon as practical using your local battery re cycling company to collect them from your premises.