Best Practices for Forklift Battery Maintenance & Handling

Maximizing the economic life of a forklift battery is highly dependent on maintenance procedures and maintenance frequency. Few companies have mastered those maintenance processes to their own satisfaction and the resulting shortfall is costly.  Below are starting points for you to develop your own “best practices”.

Proper Handling

Forklift batteries are very heavy and are always dangerous when being moved outside of the forklift in which they are installed.  Educating associates in proper handling techniques are critical.  Insist on having your forklift supplier and/or your battery supplier provide OSHA Certified training on battery handling “best practices”.  A brief outline is below:

  • Use dedicated and customized equipment, such as a walkie pallet with a transfer carriage installed, to maneuver the battery. Even the lightest forklift batteries weigh hundreds of pounds.  Larger batteries weigh several tons.  No single person should attempt to move a forklift battery. Always task 2 or more folks and they should be wearing steel toe shoes and eye and hand protection.
  • Position eye and hand washing stations nearby battery changeout areas. Batteries contain sulfuric acid and any splashes of liquids should be neutralized quickly.  And should be reported to safety team management.
  • Because of the Sulfuric Acid water mix in a battery protective gear should be worn during any maneuvering of batteries. Chemical-resistant gear should also be worn to protect skin and clothing. You can obtain the correct safety glasses, gloves, and from your local forklift dealer and/or battery dealer.
  • Remove watches, metal jewelry, necklaces, and body piercings when handling and charging or servicing batteries.

Proper Charging

Maximizing battery life is about charging at the right time and for the right amount of time. A brief outline is below regarding tips about charging your forklift battery:

  • Battery Charging areas should be well lit and well-marked. This is an OSHA-recommended best practice.
  • Lead acid batteries can develop a “memory” and should be charged only when they drop below 80 percent depth of discharge. Charging prior that point can result in reduced battery life depending on the type of battery.  No battery should be over discharged.  That would be below 20% of capacity.
  • Over watering your battery can cause it to overflow.  Take time to neutralize the overflow and then dispose of the waste product in a safe container.  Keeping your battery clean after a spill/overflow will help prevent corrosion and extend battery life. Any spill that reaches the floor should be reported to the Safety Management Team at your facility.
  • Batteries, and the charger paired with them, should be matched and approved by your local forklift or battery vendor. Matching the charger should include verifying the voltage/amperage needs of the battery and the capabilities of the charger and the facility power supply. One method used to help simplify the matching process involves color coding the connectors between the battery and charger.  Additionally, clearly labeling the chargers prevents operator confusion. Proper training is also important and should be done no less than annually.
  • Older and obsolete chargers can allow for overcharging the battery. Modern chargers have battery management systems that will prevent overcharging. Ask your battery vendor or forklift supplier to review your equipment for modern safeguards so you can weigh the risks.  A $7,000 battery can be ruined by an obsolete charger.  A modern charger is more efficient and can cost as little as $2,500.  A great investment in productivity and safety.
  • Battery charging areas need to be in areas with approved temperature ranges. Extreme cold or heat can cause reduced service life and longer charging times. Battery types (lithium, lead acid, etc.) and charging requirements may vary.  Contact your forklift vendor or battery vendor for the approved charging temperature range.
  • Water of batteries should be done after the charging cycle. Adding water to a wet-cell lead acid battery prior to the charging cycle the battery will often result in creating spills. If available pure/distilled water should be used and the watering should occur after a full charge cycle to bring the electrolytes to the proper level. If the water level is not visible to the person charging the battery the battery should not be charged. You should contact your forklift vendor or battery vendor for remedial steps.
  • Modern chargers (less than 10 years old, most commonly) will not create “safety hazard events” if plugged in or removed from being plugged in improperly.  Older chargers will require you to ensure that the charger is turned off before connecting/ disconnecting the battery.

Need someone to review your battery charging and care operation for OSHA compliance and safety? Contact the professionals at Allied Motive Power today!