Guide to Health and Safety

The handling and proper use of lead-acid batteries is not hazardous provided appropriate facilities are available and operators, having been instructed, are adequately supervised and take reasonable care. The purpose of this is :

To indicate the potential hazards that may arise
To outline the precautions to be taken to minimize such hazards
To indicate the action to be taken in the event of an accident or emergency situation.

Sulphuric Acid
Batteries contain sulphuric acid (dry charged batteries prior to filling excluded), which may leak for a number of reasons and may be given off as droplets and/or fine mist during charging.
Nature of the Hazard
Battery acid is a poisonous and corrosive liquid, which will cause burns and irritation to skin and eyes and could damage clothing.

Always keep batteries upright and handle them with care.
Do not over fill batteries.
Always charge in a well-ventilated area.
Always use eye protection and protective clothing where there is any risk of splashing.
Always keep batteries away from children.

Accident or Emergency Action/Treatment
Skin Contact - Immediately drench the affected area with clean water and remove any contaminated clothing. If the soreness or irritation persists seek medical advice.
Eye Contact - Immediately wash out the eyes with clean water for at least 10 minutes and seek prompt medical attention.
Spillage - Small spillages can be dealt with simply swilling away with plenty of water.
Disposal - Suitable acid resistant, labelled containers should be used. See Disposal section to learn more.

Electrical Energy
Electrical energy can be supplied from batteries and charging equipment.
Nature of the hazard
Burns may occur from the heating effect on tools and conductive objects in contact with live battery terminals or conductors. In addition sparks and molten metal may be ejected and combustible materials ignited. It is possible to receive a severe electric shock from charging equipment and from a number of batteries connected in series i.e. batteries 60 volt nominal.

Before using conductive tools on a battery remove metallic personal adornments from the hands and wrists i.e. watches and rings.
Before working on a vehicle's electrical system, disconnect the battery where there is any risk of accidental short circuits.
Always disconnect the earth terminal from a battery first and connect it lastli>
Do not place tools or conductive objects on top of batteries.
Before using a battery charger consult the manufacturer's literature.
Remember to switch off the charger before connecting or disconnecting a battery. See Emission of Gases Section to learn more.

Accident or Emergency Action/Treatment
Burns- Apply a dry, sterile dressing and seek medical attention.
Electrical Shock - Immediate action is essential in cases of severe electric shock as the nerves controlling breathing and heart action may be affected.
Do not delay treatment by calling for a doctor, this should be done quickly if help is available or when the casualty recovers.
Make sure it is safe to approach. If the casualty is not clear of a live conductor, break the contact. Switch off the current, remove the plugs, or wrench the cable free. If this is not possible, stand on dry insulating material (wood, rubber, brick, thickly folded newspaper, book etc.) and try to push or pull the casualty clear of contact using similar insulating material as a lever. Do not touch the casualty with bare hands.
If necessary give artificial respiration.

Emission of Gases
Hydrogen and oxygen are emitted during charging and can be emitted at other times particularly if a battery is moved or shaken.
Nature of the Hazard
An explosive atmosphere is created if the concentration of hydrogen in air exceeds 49%.

Always use eye protection where there is any foreseeable risk.
Charge the battery in a well-ventilated area.
Avoid sources of ignition close to the battery

No smoking.
No naked flames.
Always switch off current before making or breaking electrical connections.
Avoid sparks caused by accidental short circuits. See Sulphuric Acid section to learn more.

Accident Or Emergency Action/Treatment
Explosion - Seek any necessary medical attention and remember that sulphuric acid may have been ejected (see Section 1).

Batteries are generally heavy, awkward units to handle and correct lifting techniques must be used.
Battery plates consist of a lead and it compounds but can only be exposed if a battery is broken open. In the unlikely event of this happening any spillage should be well damped, swept up and placed in a suitable acid resistant, labelled container prior to disposal.
Normal personal hygiene precautions should be observed.

Batteries, battery cases, battery acid, lead and lead compounds must not be burned but must be disposed of in accordance with appropriate legislation and local waste disposal authority rules and regulations.

Since batteries contain combustible materials the local fire authority should be consulted where a quantity of batteries are stored together.

Familiarize yourself with the location of your health centre and how to contact your works nurse, first aid or appointed person.
Remember to report any accident involving personal injury in your official accident book.
Any additional information, including battery labeling, that is provided to cover specific battery types and applications must be used in conjunction with this guide.

Storage and Maintenance

Correct Storage

- All batteries should be stored in a cool dry place and in an upright position (terminals in an upward position). This will prevent spillage of electrolyte. Battery stock should be rotated in a strict and specific manner : first in, first out,whether the product is wet or in any other form.
- Manufacturing date codes should be shown on the product packaging as well as stamped on the batteries themselves. This will prove helpful in accomplishing product rotation. One of the greatest problems with battery replacement is not following the procedure of first-in, first-out, and not balancing inventories with battery type demand.
- Batteries stored for long periods of time without being charged will suffer from grid corrosion and plates will become sulphated. This leads to a loss of electrical capacity. High temperature storage will accelerate auto-discharge i.e. the higher the temperature of the surrounding environment the higher the internal losses in the battery.
- When batteries are stored incorrectly they begin to lose their electrical charge, and eventually will become completely discharged.
- Store batteries on wooden or plastic pallets when using steel shelving for storage, as this will provide added insulation. Make sure the storage area is dry and well ventilated and out of direct sunlight. Try to store batteries of the same type with the same date codes on the same shelf.
- The oldest batteries of the same type should be positioned at the front of the shelf.


- The cells indicate a gradual reduction of electrolyte level after the battery has been in use for a period of time, due to the loss of water in the electrolyte.
- This is normal as electrolysis, or the decomposition of water ( H20 ) frees the hydrogen and oxygen gases as a result of the charge current. Cells also lose water due to natural evaporation.
- The loss of water should be replaced with distilled or approved battery water to maintain the electrolyte at the recommended level. By doing this, and maintaining the level above the plates, you will extend the life of your battery.
- Battery terminals and cables tend to corrode. If there has been a spill or leakage of electrolyte it must be cleaned with a solution of sodium bicarbonate to neutralise the acid and prevent corrosion.
- Periodic cleaning of the battery top, plus terminal clamps and terminals will prevent corrosion which can cause poor starting.
- Cover all metallic parts with a thin layer of petroleum jelly to prevent corrosion.
- Check the correct functioning of the charge system at regular intervals. Also check for parasitic losses that constantly drain the battery.
Most Common Causes of Battery Failure

- Do not blame the battery for problems until a complete check of the system has been made
- Both the earth cable and live cable should be checked for continuity and the contact with the battery terminals must be clean and tight.
- If the battery cables are faulty due to wear and corrosion they will not be able to carry the necessary current and will not be able to operate the vehicle electrical system properly.

Life Expired

- Normal usage will deteriorate the battery over a period of time and is due to the repetition of the engine starting discharge, and the alternator charging cycle.
- This slowly wears away the active material on the plates and together with the corrosion of the grid structure the battery capacity is gradually lost to the point where replacement is necessary.

Poor Maintenance

- Lack of maintenance will cause permanent damage to an otherwise good battery
- A common fault is neglecting to ensure that the electrolyte is within recommended levels, and failure to add battery water when necessary.
- Should low levels be allowed to persist, the plates will be uncovered, and the battery capacity and performance will be adversely affected, to the point where it will no longer provide a discharge.
- When vent plugs or filler plugs are removed the electrolyte must be clear with no brownish colour which indicates overcharging, or an old battery close the end of its useful operating life.
- Note that acid should never be added to a battery as only the water content of the electrolyte is either evaporated or decomposed.

Overcharging or Insufficient Charging

- Excessive or insufficient charging may cause serious problems to the battery.
- This is also true for vehicle charging generator and alternator systems which must be set correctly. Bench charging can also do damage if the recommended instructions for the battery type are not strictly followed.

Overcharging Promotes

- Rapid corrosion of the positive grids and plates.
- Excess heat will accelerate the normal chemical reaction creating premature damage to all components.
- Positive plates become deformed and separators are damaged by heat.
- Spilling of acid which reduces the electrolyte level and causes corrosion damage due to acid on the cables and posts, and surrounding parts of the battery compartment.
- Excessive water loss leading to “dry out” of the battery.

Undercharging Causes

- Both positive and negative plates will begin to turn to lead sulphate and will affect the normal performance of the battery.
- The accumulation of lead deposit on the separators causing short circuits between the positive and negative plates.
- The battery to eventually become completely discharged.

Under Sizing Batteries

- The installation of a lower capacity battery than that specified by the vehicle manufacturer, inevitably causes frequent discharges, plus the inability to provide performance under cold conditions and also leads to premature battery failure.
- Battery under sizing will usually nullify any warranty claim.

Excessive Vibration

- Many premature battery failures are due to excessive vibration often caused by the absence of, or a loose, battery hold down clamp. Plate separators are easily damaged due to this problem, especially when driving on poor or unpaved roads.
- Severe vibrations shake the active materials from the plates which then accumulate at the bottom of the battery.
- Batteries must always be fastened firmly to the base, but should not be too tight, as to damage the cases or covers.

Reasons For Discharge

Many times a defective electrical system affects the battery. A battery that is in good working order that is constantly discharging may have a problem due to one or more of the following conditions:

- Electrical accessories that are left on.
- Defective alternator or generator.
- Short circuit in the electrical system.
- The battery has been idle, or stored too long without a freshening charge.

Hidden Electrical Leaks

- This test could be useful in identifying parasitic discharges which can cause a battery to die.
- With the vehicle OFF, disconnect the negative terminal from the battery and place a testing lamp between it and the negative disconnected terminal.
- With the circuits OFF, the lamp should NOT light up.
- If it does, this is a clear indication of an electrical leak in the vehicle that is discharging the battery.
- Digital clocks and digital radios may illuminate the lamp faintly.
- If it is very bright, use an ammeter to measure the current which should not be higher than 0.5Amps.

Terminal Connection Test

- For this test, use a digital voltmeter between the terminal and the battery cable to measure the voltage drop.
- Place the voltmeter terminals: one on the positive terminal of the battery and the other on the positive connection
- If the voltage drop is higher than 0.5 volts, clean the unit and tighten the terminal.

Superficial Discharge Test

- If the top part of the battery is dirty or wet, this could generate a loss of current and auto discharge through it.
- Take the digital voltmeter and place one of the terminals on a battery post and the other one in the damp area, if the voltage is above 0.2 volts this would indicate a current leak.

Rapid Charge Test

- This will determine if the battery is sulphated.
- Charge the battery for 3 minutes at 30 to 40 Amps.
- Connect a voltmeter to the battery and observe the voltage during the charge procedure.
- If the voltage reading is higher than 15.5 volts, the battery is over sulphated and will need to be replaced.