How to Neutralize Battery Acid Safely
Is your operation prepared for a major battery acid spill?
In modern industry, batteries are a relatively safe technology. OSHA reports only 52 serious injury incidents involving direct handling of batteries in lift trucks and other electric vehicles since 2015. Most of those incidents occurred when moving or watering batteries, and battery acid exposure only caused 3 of the listed incidents.
However, those statistics don’t include minor injuries or OSHA compliance violations — and major battery acid spills can destroy inventory, damage equipment, or lead to significant production bottlenecks.
The bottom line: Every operation that uses industrial batteries should have a detailed spill response strategy. When workers understand how to neutralize battery acid safely, they can act quickly in emergencies without taking unnecessary risks.
How to Neutralize Battery Acid: 5 Steps
Below, we’ll explain how to clean up battery acid while minimizing hazards for employees. However, remember that your operation’s unique characteristics (such as its floor plan or the location of other hazardous materials onsite) may affect your spill response strategy. The safest course of action is to perform a full hazard assessment when planning for disasters.
With that said, following these five steps should help you prepare your workforce to respond efficiently to lead-acid battery spills.
1. Identify the conditions of the hazard.
While your goal is to neutralize hazards as soon as possible, you’ll also need to establish a safe working environment for the spill response team. Train workers to take the following steps:
- Check for battery acid on clothes. Immediately remove any garments that have been exposed.
- Check for battery acid on skin. Use emergency showers and eyewash stations as needed.
- Notify workers of the spill and evacuate non-essential workers from the area.
- Ensure that the area has adequate ventilation.
- Don personal protective equipment (see below) and continue with spill cleanup.
2. Make sure your spill response team wears appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Remember, PPE isn’t optional. OSHA 1926.441(a)(5) requires that “face shields, aprons, and rubber gloves shall be provided for workers handling acids or batteries.”
All battery spills are serious chemical hazards. Contact with battery acid can cause chemical burns immediately, but symptoms may take several minutes or hours to appear. As such, employees must wear PPE when performing any neutralization or cleanup activities.
Appropriate training is also required by law. To ensure compliance with OSHA (and to limit hazards in the battery room), make sure that your workers understand how to properly don, adjust, and remove their PPE. Your training program should be documented and should include guidance for using eyewash stations and emergency showers.
Products to Consider: WYK Sorbents PPE Standard Kit
Instead of purchasing PPE items individually, consider using ready-to-wear PPE kits to improve spill response times. Solus Group's PPE Standard Kit includes a disposable face shield, safety glasses, nitrile gloves, a disposable apron, and a pair of latex overboots.
3. Contain the battery acid spill.
Use appropriate supplies to keep the spill from spreading outside of the containment area. Sorbent socks are effective for creating a perimeter, while pads and pillows can absorb large liquid spills.
To contain the spill as quickly as possible — and minimize the dangers for employees, inventory, and equipment — keep your spill response supplies in a highly visible location. Consider building a mobile spill cart with sorbents, socks, pillows, PPE, and other essentials.
Products to Consider: Battery Acid Spill Kits
Battery Spill Kits include loose sorbents, socks, chemical pads, pillows, PPE, and other necessary supplies for responding to battery acid spills.
Available in a range of sizes from 6.5-gallon pails to 55-gallon drums, Solus Group’s Battery Spill Kits simplify neutralization and cleanup. Place Battery Spill Kits wherever employees work with batteries for quicker access to the essentials — and faster spill response times.
4. Neutralize the battery acid with appropriate materials.
According to OSHA, battery acid can be safely neutralized with a dilution of baking soda or soda ash (one pound per gallon of water). For smaller spills, baking soda is sufficient.
However, in warehouses and storage facilities, dedicated sorbents are a much better option. Here’s why: Forklift batteries may contain as much as 432 pounds of sulfuric acid. If a major spill occurs, your spill response team will need to contain the hazard as quickly as possible; they may not have time to dilute an appropriate amount of baking soda.
Additionally, baking soda can neutralize acid, but it can’t stop the spill from spreading. If the spill occurs in a traffic lane or near inventory, fast containment is absolutely essential. Industrial facilities should keep dedicated sorbents on-hand to address battery spills quickly.
Products to Consider: AcidSorb
AcidSorb is a granular sorbent that changes color to indicate neutralization. By solidifying acids on contact, AcidSorb simplifies cleanup, and its buffered compound reduces toxic vapor emissions by reducing the heat generated during the neutralization process.
Available in sizes ranging from ½ gallon to 55 gallons, AcidSorb improves spill response efficiency and aids in compliance with OSHA regulations.
5. Check the pH level of the liquid and begin cleanup.
Many dedicated sorbents (such as AcidSorb) change color to indicate neutralization. However, if you’re using baking soda or soda ash, you’ll need to test the materials to ensure that the pH is between 6 and 8 before continuing with cleanup.
Once battery acid is neutralized, follow these steps:
- Sweep up sorbents and contain the waste in a pail, bucket, or plastic drum. Use a resealable container.
- Rinse all residue off of the affected battery, following appropriate procedures for battery washing.
- Dispose of the waste in accordance with federal, local, and state requirements. Contact your local environmental authority for guidance.
- Document the spill. Include all relevant details regarding how the spill occurred and the steps taken during spill response.
- Immediately replenish your PPE, sorbents, and other spill response supplies.
Preventative Maintenance in the Battery Room
If your operation has a large fleet of electric vehicles, occasional battery acid spills are practically unavoidable. However, preventative maintenance can prevent larger spills from occurring.
Take the following steps when outfitting your battery room:
- Install drip pans beneath every battery stand or battery station. Drip pans should be lined with AcidSorb pillows, which neutralize battery acid before it reaches the metal surface of the pan.
- Clean batteries and battery racks regularly with neutralizing liquids and no-spark brushes. AcidSafe Liquid is a heavy-duty degreaser that neutralizes acid residue on battery terminals and cases. The purple liquid changes color to orange or yellow when in contact with acids, then turns back to purple to indicate a safe pH range.
- Use appropriate supplies when watering batteries. A dedicated watering gun and mobile battery water carts can prevent overwatering, reducing the chances of boil-overs.
- Create a watering schedule for batteries — and stick to it. Never water batteries before a charge, during a charge, or mid-shift.
- Charge all batteries to 100 percent before use. This doesn’t directly reduce your chances of a battery acid spill, but fully charging your batteries can extend their lifespan and reduce the need for watering.
- Invest in high-quality battery chargers, charging stands, and other equipment. Strategically place PPE kits and other supplies to keep them within reach of workers.
- Don’t forget to test eyewash stations and emergency showers Make sure workers know how to use them.
High-quality equipment in the battery room can reduce the risks of boil-overs and other incidents — and keep workers prepared for spill response. Regardless of the size of your electric vehicle fleet, Solus Group can help your operation find appropriate solutions.
Call our sales team at 314-696-0200 or contact us online for more information.