The unique power demands of forklift battery rooms create singular electrical hazards. Electricians can’t simply cut power to the system and proceed without caution; batteries remain energized even when separated from charging systems.
Additionally, unless the battery room was designed with working clearance and guarding around all live components, it can be a particularly dangerous place for workers to enter. These electrical risks only add to the hazards associated with industrial batteries themselves: extreme weight, acidic electrolyte, and the generation of explosive hydrogen gas during the charge.
Luckily, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) both offer in-depth rules designed to keep workers safe in battery rooms of all types. Here are a few of the relevant guidelines that can protect electricians working in forklift battery rooms:
NFPA 70E, Articles 310 and 320
You probably know NFPA as the publisher of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC). The organization publishes similar codebooks for specific situations, including NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.
Two articles in chapter 3 of this document address electrical safety in forklift battery rooms. These are:
- Article 310: Safety-Related Work Practices for Electrolytic Cells
This chapter describes safety standards for working with industrial batteries and their charging equipment. It requires appropriate personal protective equipment, safety training, and risk assessments to avoid injury.
- Article 320: Safety Requirements Related to Batteries and Battery Rooms
In Article 320, the NFPA instructs battery-room staff — including electrical workers — to prevent exposure to energy levels above 50 volts and 5 milliamperes AC power and 100 volts DC power. It also requires employers to include electrical hazard warnings on all equipment.
In order to keep risks of electrical exposure as low as possible, consider installing custom Electrical Distribution Systems into battery racks. Along with Charger Power Modules, which route power to up to eight battery chargers at a time, these precautions limit exposure to internal wiring while making it easy to unplug electrical equipment without dismantling.
29 CFR 1910.178(g), Changing and Charging Storage Batteries
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’ll recognize this OSHA standard devoted to battery-room safety. In the context of electrical work in charging areas, it covers the non-electrical risks, providing safety rules for handling electrolyte, moving batteries, and ventilation, among others.
To read the whole standard, click here. For details on electrical safety in the battery room and elsewhere, we turn to at least one other OSHA standard, listed below.
29 CFR 1910.137, Electrical Protective Equipment
This OSHA standard includes strict guidelines for the design and use of insulated equipment. It states, among many other things, that protective equipment used to protect against energized components must block current equal to the highest nominal voltage that may pass through the equipment.
Rubber insulating covers, gloves, sleeves, and blankets are crucial parts of the personal protective equipment required for battery room work. Because battery cells may remain charged even when power is cut to the system, versatile insulating materials can help to prevent electric shock from unexpected sources.
To read the standard, click here.
“CFR 1910.137, Electrical Protective Equipment.” OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2019.
“CFR 1910.178, Powered Industrial Trucks.” OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2019.
“NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, 2018.” NFPA. National Fire Protection Association, 2018. Web. 18 Mar. 2019.