Since batteries are so common, we tend not to think of the hazards associated with them. Generating and charging a battery creates toxic and explosive substances, that can be harmful to humans and the environment. Batteries hooked to a circuit made to generate high levels of voltage can deliver a fatal electrical shock.
Consider how many places use a battery in our workplace. Most electronic equipment, forklifts, portable power tools, alarm and testing equipment, clocks, and communications equipment.
Hydrogen gas is extremely explosive in the right environment. A charging battery can produce hydrogen gas, also known as H2. Just like with methane, when an accumulation of hydrogen gas mixes with oxygen in the air and meets an ignition source such as a spark, an explosion occurs. The resulting explosion can result in an eye injury from fragments of a battery or tool or worse, the splashing of sulfuric acid or lead. Unused batteries that have been sitting for a long time may have come corroded, with may make them leak and increase the chances of an explosion or burn.
Excess hydrogen gas is likely to be produced when batteries are being charged, and when batteries are mismatched, connected incorrectly, damaged, overcharged or otherwise misused.
These general safety tips apply to batteries of all sizes:
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions with battery powered equipment
- Do not mix batteries of different brands or old and new batteries.
- Do not mix batteries of different types, such as alkaline and non-alkaline, or rechargeable and non-rechargeable.
- Mixing batteries may cause one battery may “charge” the other one, resulting in overheating and potential explosion.
- Do not use damaged or leaking batteries.
- Observe the correct polarity when installing batteries.
A battery explosion is a serious matter in any work environment, but especially when the atmosphere of the work area is flammable. For use in hazardous atmospheres, observe all safety precautions to prevent fire and explosion. As directed, use lights and batteries designed to minimize the hazards of sparks. Make sure the batteries are in good condition and installed correctly. Open the battery compartment to allow any accumulated hydrogen gas to escape.
Many workplaces have battery rooms where large batteries that power mobile equipment are charged and changed. Handling these batteries requires special training to prevent explosions and other kinds of exposure. The rooms have to be well ventilated. Workers need to use the correct battery lifting devices to avoid injury. Heavy batteries being moved from delivery vehicles to storage can also fall and crush toes.