Batteries are used in many different industries, processes, and applications, including farm equipment, vehicles, and forklifts. Because batteries conduct electricity, they can spark a fire in certain conditions if they are misused or improperly stored. When a battery catches fire, it can cause acid to be released, which can burn and scar the skin. Toxic fumes can also cause lung damage and even blindness.
To help protect you and your employees, we’ve compiled a list of risk management tips to consider as part of your battery maintenance and safety program. It’s important to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and consult other resources outlining best practices.
General maintenance procedures
Your battery maintenance and safety program should be developed according to what type of batteries you use. For example, charging batteries produce explosive and highly flammable gases, so should be charged away from ignition sources like hot work activities or other electrical equipment.
Dusting batteries to prevent shorting: Regardless of what type of battery you use, they should be kept clean and dust-free to protect against shorting. Shorting is also referred to as a short circuit, which occurs when an electrical charge flows along an unintended path, resulting in an excessive amount of heat or sparks. Dust mixed with spilled electrolyte on a battery can create a low resistance electrical path, which can result in a short circuit.
Ventilation: Before you perform any sort of maintenance, repair, or tighten terminal connections, always ventilate the battery compartment. Batteries vent hydrogen gas which can accumulate around the battery compartment.
Installing or removing batteries: Before performing battery maintenance, shut down all electrical loads. Always disconnect the negative terminal connector (in black) before connecting or removing the positive terminal connector (in red). This will prevent an electrical breakdown of gas that produces a long discharge, also known as an electric arc, which could occur if a wrench touched a grounded surface.
Jump starting batteries
When jump starting batteries in negative ground vehicles, consider taking the following steps:
- Connect one end of the red jumper lead, the battery, to the positive terminal of the dead battery and connect the other end to the positive terminal of the booster battery.
- Connect one end of the jumper lead to the negative terminalof the booster battery, which is in black. Connect the other end to the bare, metal frame at a location away from the battery of the equipment being jump-started.
- Once started, disconnect the jumper leads in reverse order.
Before connecting the charger connectors to the battery, make sure the charging circuit isn’t energized. Short circuits, overcharging, or other battery and charger malfunctions can produce heat buildup and even fire.
Follow these steps to help ensure your battery is charging safely:
- Follow the charger’s operating instructions and make sure the connections are to the correct polarity—positive/red to positive/red and negative/black to negative/black.
- Once the connections are made, turn the charger on.
Chargers should be monitored and used only during business hours. The charger should be unplugged from the power supply and the battery at the end of the day. Failure to disconnect the battery from the charger can cause a reverse flow of current, which can lead to overheating and result in explosions or fires.
Disconnecting power supply
A good risk management practice is to disconnect any batteries from equipment stored inside a shop. This is even more important if the vehicle or equipment is brought in for servicing because electrical problems may cause fires.
Installing a battery cut-off switch to disconnect a battery’s power supply quickly and easily can help reduce the risk of a fire. After installing a battery cut-off switch on the negative post, the battery cable is then attached to the cut-off switch.
- A mechanism on the cut-off switch tightens and loosens it, which engages or disconnects the power supply from the battery.
Portable power supply or battery pack
These portable units are used for boosting batteries and jump-starting engines. For example, as a farm equipment dealer, you may use portable power units to boost equipment on your lot. They can also be used when electrical power sources aren’t available to operate a battery charger. Homemade portable units, which consist of mounting a battery and booster cables on a portable cable, can cause fires and result in significant property damage.
Manufactured units are available in various sizes depending on the boosting amps required. These units are equipped with built-in safety features to prevent incorrect installation of booster cables and short-circuiting. Some units buzz if the cables are installed in reverse, and they won’t deliver any cranking amps if the cables aren’t attached to a battery.
Battery bulk storage
If you store batteries in bulk, keep these tips in mind to help prevent damage and help protect the terminals from short-circuiting:
- Separate new and used batteries.
- Store batteries indoors or in an enclosed, well-ventilated, and dry area like a sea-can container. Areas with high temperatures can result in accelerated rates of self-discharge and deterioration of battery performance.
- Ensure batteries are elevated from the ground and stored away from combustibles.
- Battery storage should be limited to one pallet to prevent puncturing, crushing, and shorting.
- Pile batteries neatly and shrink-wrapped in-place to prevent accidental tipping and falling.
Consider hiring a qualified and licensed transportation carrier to transport new or used batteries in accordance with your local Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) Act and Regulations. If you ship them by air, more requirements and restrictions will apply. Here are other ways you can help prevent damage to your batteries during shipment:
- Properly mark and label the batteries in accordance with local transportation guidelines.
- Used battery disposal should involve an accredited recycler.
- Separate damaged batteries from undamaged batteries.
- Securely package the batteries to prevent movement, vibration, puncturing, crushing, and shorting.
- Ensure batteries are stored upright on a pallet.
Keep your business safe from battery fires with advice from the experts
Our Risk Services team can work with you to create a battery maintenance and safety training program that addresses your unique business needs. We also offer risk assessments to help make sure your business is compliant with government or industry regulations and legislation. Find out more by visiting our Risk Services page today!