Electric forklifts are used indoors so that it won’t emit dangerous fumes and irritating smoke. They are relatively quite compared to forklifts powered by internal combustion engines. They are powered by either much heavy lead acid or nickel-iron batteries. The batteries could weighs up to 2,500 pounds and it takes up much of the total weight of the forklift itself.
The average life expectancy of electric forklift battery is five years but if you do regular and proper maintenance to it, it could last even longer but there are instances that the batteries die earlier than expected and that is the time it needs to be replaced.
Just like your sedan car’s battery, electric forklift batteries gives symptoms telling you to replace them. Here are the indications of bad condition battery:
- You may notice that the forklift decreases time of operational use even it received sufficient charging time. Run time could dramatically reduce from the average to just few hours. It is a tell-tail sign that it needs replacement. With poor run time, the forklift needs to be recharged several times every shift.
- If you observe that the forklift is slow and sluggish to start and it takes more time before it delivers its power, it is just indicates that the battery is losing charge. With bad battery, the response time decreases making it very difficult to operate. It creates another hazard because the forklift could tip over when driving through slopes and corners.
- Take a visual inspection of the battery by opening its case, you may notice that corrosion builds up on top. It is another indication that the battery needs to be replaced.
- If you smell foul odor of rotten eggs. You may notice the stink during battery recharging because the cell plates heat up when electrical current passes through it, causing the sulfuric acid to boil inside emitting bad smell.
- When the battery gives off smoke. You may observe it during charging and in more dangerous situation is when the forklift is in used. This posts a very dangerous situation for the operator and the people around because it could explode or catch fire.
- When the operator reports loss of charge during operation, then it is an indicator that the battery needs replacing. Check the truck’s daily inspection report and see whether the operator had reports of such occurrence.
If you discover one or several of these issues with your electric forklift, then it is time to have its battery replaced. You can replace the batteries according to manufacturer’s recommendation. See your owner’s manual.
Battery Changing Safety Practices
It is the duty of the employer to ensure the safety of their employees. The employer should show their will in managing safety in the workplace by providing necessities to assure the well-being of the workers involved handling the replacing of the electric forklift batteries, these include the following:
- Provision of designated station. Changing of battery should be done in a designated station. The location should be well ventilated to prevent poisonous and explosive gases from building up. The flooring should be acid resistant for neutralizing when electrolyte leaked to the floor.
- Provision of safety signs. Safety signs such as “No Smoking,” “No Open Flames,” “Battery Charging Area” should be displayed in the station. This will alert workers to take necessary safety measure.
- Provision of gas detector. Detector should always be present in the changing facility to detect high accumulation of gases and the facility should be equipped with fire extinguisher.
- Provision of washing area. Facility where workers can have immediate wash or shower in the event of an accident (splattering of battery acid in the face, eyes or body) should be constructed in closed proximity from the changing station. The recommendation is 25 feet away or less from the changing station.
- Provision of proper clothing. Proper personal protective equipment (proper PPE would include face protection, goggles, rubber gloves, inhalation protection, steel-toe boots, etc) should be provided and worn by worker who will perform the changing.
- A risk assessment/analysis and procedure should be written. It is always to have a safety procedure or risk assessment in print when performing such hazardous task. The assessment identifies potential danger to mitigate untoward incidences or eliminate serious accidents from occurring.
- Provision of first aid kit. It is always handy to have such emergency first aid kit in the charging station ready.
The worker/mechanic who will perform battery replacing is required to take precaution for the safety of himself and of the people around him. It is important to know the correct way of handling them. Some of the safety practices with regards to changing electric forklift battery are:
- Only trained mechanic should perform the replacing. Only qualified worker should carry out such task. It cannot be done by an ordinary worker. In as much as possible, the mechanic who will perform such task is specialized in doing the battery changing. He could be a representative of battery manufacturer where you bought the battery from or a properly trained individual from your fleet.
- Use a pallet jack during handling. When handling the forklift battery use pallet jack with a transfer carriage to transport the battery or overhead hoist to lift it up. Batteries are so heavy, it cannot be lifted by sheer muscle.
- Don’t wear any metallic object like jewelries when handling the electric forklift battery. Make sure that you don’t have necklace, ring, watch on. Likewise, if you will be working with tools, keep it away from the battery terminals. When became in contact with the terminals, it will form short circuit creating arc or in a worst circumstance, an explosion.
- Practice good housekeeping after carrying out such work in the workplace. Here are some of the things that you can do: Spills of electrolyte should be cleaned up, use a siphon to pick up spilled electrolyte on the floor. Old and unserviceable forklift batteries should not be stacked on top of each other, utensils and should be returned to designated place and never leave them laying somewhere.
- Always wear the personal protective clothing/equipment when doing such task. If worker is observed not wearing the proper PPE, he could be cited with safety violation by his supervisor.
To Wrap This Up
Replacing electric forklift batteries may look very simple and basic task but there are many hazards involved, hence extra precaution should be taken to prevent accident from happening. If adequate measures aren’t ready, mechanic could suffer serious injury or even death.
The employer has its own responsibility to provide safety to their workers. The workers have the obligation to follow the recommended safety procedure. It is a give-and-take relationship to make everyone safe and happy.