Electric lift truck battery charging

Recharging electric lift truck batteries has a number of significant hazards which can, if not suitably controlled, increase the risk of fire, explosion, injury or even death.

In many premises, battery charging takes place at night while the building is empty. This means faults in charging equipment might not be detected until there is a fire, and by then the damage is done for the business.

In addition to fire risks, various health and safety hazards need to be considered for your employees’ protection, including electrocution and the handling of battery acid.

 
  • Make sure your health and safety risk assessments are suitable, sufficient, up-to-date, done by a competent person and include all the risks associated with lift truck battery recharging, e.g. fire, explosion, acid burns, acid fume inhalation, manual handling injuries, electrocution and impact by lift trucks or other vehicles.
  • Consider specific obligations under health and safety regulations that apply, including: 

    - theDangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) and Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites) Regulations (NAMOS) need to be considered, for areas where an explosive atmosphere may be present;

    - the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), with regards to battery acid; and

    - the Electricity at Work Regulations for the risks from electrical equipment.
  • Review your fire risk assessment thinking of the area where battery charging happens. Is there a safer area? Ideally, it would be in a detached outbuilding, but if part of a larger building, it could be in an enclosure that has a fire resistance of at least 120 minutes, including doors, walls and ceiling.
  • Ensure your employees have been told of significant hazards identified by the risk assessments and how you’ll control them. Employees should sign for all health and safety information to acknowledge receipt.
  • Train all employees to enable them to work safely and have the necessary facilities and equipment (including personal protective equipment) for them to do so. Record all training provided.
  • Check your first aid assessment to make sure what you’ve done is enough.
  • Consider risks associated with battery charging when your premises are empty.
 
  • For dangerous activities, like handling battery acid, provide a safe system of work (SSOW) document to all relevant employees. Base your SSOW on your obligations under relevant regulations, applicable HSE guidance and control measures from your risk assessments.

    - Include the safest sequence for connecting and disconnecting charger leads and units in your SSOW.
  • Make sure battery charging is only done in well ventilated areas. Ventilation in the charging area needs to be enough to keep hydrogen below its lower explosive limit (LEL). Where there is a significant risk of hydrogen gas, suitable gas detectors should be considered.
  • Provide and maintain suitable fire extinguishers and train employees to use them.
  • Protect chargers from vehicle impact by considering traffic routes and installing physical barriers.
  • Don’t stand chargers on combustible surfaces, particularly wooden pallets.
  • Check battery charging areas aren’t used for storage and kept clear. Chargers should be protected by guard rails or the floor marked, creating at least two metres of clearance. Keep this area clear of combustibles and display suitable signs.
  • Include charging units in a documented system for periodic inspection, testing and maintenance of electrical appliances.
  • Confirm the fixed electrical installation supplying the charging area has been inspected and tested periodically by a competent electrical contractor.
  • Only use and charge the battery in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
Find information on regulations that you and your business may need to comply with.
A-Z of legislation
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Consider these hazards and issues when assessing the risks that come with electric lift truck battery charging:
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