About Batteries - Part 2: Safety
There are several aspects about batteries that present a potential hazard to the user. If these are known and taken into consideration when using batteries they are quite safe. Ignore these facts and your battery bank can become very dangerous and a risk to life and limb. Most batteries intended for installation into a remote area power supply (RAPS) come with a handbook detailing installation procedure and safety precautions. Be sure to read this information carefully.
When handling or working on batteries there are some basic rules.
DO NOT SMOKE. Batteries give off explosive gases. Remove any watches, jewellery or other metallic objects from your arms, hands neck etc. These could cause a short circuit with possible burns and explosions resulting. Wear protective clothing. An apron, gloves and eye protection are recommended. Access to batteries should be limited to responsible adults.
Batteries are heavy. If you are installing your own batteries take care when moving and lifting them. Flooded lead acid batteries must always be kept vertical and should never be lifted by their terminals. Make sure your batteries are securely installed and cannot fall or be knocked over. The combined result of having your hand crushed by a 60kg battery and burnt by sulphuric acid could be very unpleasant.
Batteries contain acid. Sulphuric acid in fact. It may be dilute but it can still burn and is highly corrosive. If you get any on your clothing there will be a hole. If you get acid on your skin wash it off with large amounts of water. Remove any contaminated clothing. If acid is ingested do NOT induce vomiting but drink lots of clean water and seek immediate medical attention. Acid splashes to the eyes should be washed out with lots of water and once again seek medical attention.
Risk of explosion. When batteries are charging they give off a mixture of gases which include hydrogen and oxygen. In the right proportions this can be an explosive combination. It is very important to ensure that there is adequate ventilation to prevent any build up of these gasses. It is also extremely important to make sure that there is no chance of igniting any gasses that might be present. Once again NO SMOKING around batteries, no naked flames, no electric motors or any similar device that might produce sparks. Beware of short circuits across the battery terminals that could make a spark(or worse - the short circuit current of many of these batteries can be in the region of 2000 amps. Such a high current flow will normally lead to the battery exploding) and be sure to disconnect the batteries from the rest of the system before doing any work on them.
The battery connections should always be covered by shrouds to prevent accidental short circuits. Only remove these shrouds one at a time if you are tightening connections. Use an insulated spanner to tighten battery connections.
Disposal of batteries. Recycling is the only responsible way to dispose of old batteries. Lead is quite valuable to recyclers, so it pays off financially too. Make the effort to take your old batteries
The next article covers basic maintenance.