The boom in telecommunications services and the electronics industry over the past decade has given rise to a concurrent increase in the number of stationary lead-acid battery (SLAB) installations, which provide power for telecommunication distribution centers, UPS systems, and other applications. Along with the proliferation of these units comes tighter scrutiny of safety and environmental hazards associated with battery containment failure. While regulations governing installation and safe operation are in place at local, state, and federal levels, many companies find compliance is complex, frustrating, and expensive — while noncompliance is dangerous, inefficient, and even more expensive.

While batteries are a proven source of clean, efficient power, SLAB installations can pose safety and environmental threats when they spill or leak. Leakage of the lead and sulfuric acid found in SLABs, including flooded-cell and valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) types, might contribute to worker injuries, fire, hydrogen explosions, and groundwater and soil contamination — not to mention the attendant fines, lawsuits and loss of insurance. But proper spill containment is not a requirement for safety and environmental reasons alone. It also is sound business practice.

Yet many facility managers and engineers remain unaware of or are confused by battery safety codes and guidelines. Some opt for makeshift containment solutions, hoping to meet minimum compliance requirements with the minimum amount of money and training. Still others ignore battery containment procedures and regulations altogether.

Today, education on the safety hazards and financial consequences of noncompliance is proving to be an effective tool. Large telecommunication providers have been turning to firms that supply SLAB containment systems for solutions to their compliance issues. And the leaders in standby power system compliance and safety are listening.

Safety and Environmental Laws

Not surprisingly, state and local governments require battery containment compliance. These codes require liquid-tight containment, neutralization, signage, ventilation, personal protection, and eyewash stations in most battery rooms (see Compliance Codes for SLABS, above).

Federal regulations also abound. The EPA enforces the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which stems from the Resources Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Right to Know Act. The Right to Know Act requires businesses to report the storage of any hazardous materials exceeding 500 lb — including batteries. The RCRA states that any materials exceeding 500 lb (10 lb equals 1 gal of electrolyte) must have liquid-tight, secondary containment systems.

There also is an OSHA regulation, which addresses worker safety issues in the presence of flooded-cell batteries, that requires neutralization, sealed floors, personal protection, and eyewash stations. In addition, recent amendments to Article 64 of the Uniform Fire Code (UFC) have expanded spill containment requirements. The new requirements include VRLA batteries if the minimum electrolyte-capacity thresholds of battery systems are greater than 50 gal and individual jars are greater than 20 gal. In addition, legislation currently under review by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the National Electrical Code (NEC) would further increase the scope of enforcement.

Noncompliance Repercussions

If you think the effects of noncompliance on operations are minimal, think again. The EPA classifies sulfuric acid as extremely hazardous, so grandfather clauses that might otherwise mitigate fines and penalties for noncompliance won't protect older installations. SLAB spills and disasters also are subject to the legal implications of “chain of possession.” Under EPA regulations, this means every business involved with the battery — from the manufacturer, to the delivery company, to the installer — is potentially liable if something goes wrong. If leakage requires deployment of an OSHA-ordered HAZMAT team, costly clean-up fees apply and the potential for liability increases sharply. Furthermore, groundwater or soil contamination severely devalues a company's real property.

Failure to comply with state and local regulations can lead to construction and operation delays and exorbitant fines. Local fire departments are known to inflict some of the most drastic penalties for noncompliance. Fire inspectors in parts of California, Washington, New York, and Arizona perform 24-hr, liquid-tight tests, filling containment systems with water for one full day to test for leaks.

Improper Containment

The number of companies aiming for near-100% operation uptime, and the UPS systems they employ to guarantee that, is steadily increasing. Cities are rejuvenating downtown areas by selling and leasing old buildings to telecommunications enterprises, which fill large battery rooms with SLABs. Many of these new companies remain ill informed about intricate compliance codes and battery issues.

That's why changing the “reactive” approach to battery containment and compliance is more critical than ever. This traditional approach generates an ineffective cycle of code regulation and compliance that goes something like this:

Despite safety and monetary risks, a company fails to address secondary battery systems' containment until faced with code inspections. But this plan of action often backfires because, as the rate of containment breaches increases, local authorities step up the frequency of their code inspections. The facility's staff then responds by hastily installing containment systems that meet minimal requirements as inexpensively as possible.

Installation Problems

A careless installation can render a containment solution useless in the case of a spill or leakage. But until recently, no agency existed to guarantee or code-certify battery containment installations. Enviroguard, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of SLAB containment systems and safety products, found this lack of oversight troubling. In 1998, the vendor toured the country inspecting battery rooms and discovered the majority of companies using SLABs lacked effective, standardized containment facilities and procedures. Many were shoddy at best.

One common installation problem Enviroguard discovered was the improper use of epoxy. Using epoxy effectively is difficult because its application requires seven correctly performed steps. One time, they found epoxy that was literally thrown in the garbage can. Other problems included containment spill trays installed with gaps between seams, liners left unsealed inside the trays, and absorbent pillows placed in trays with spaces between them. Photos 1 and 2 highlight the difference between a proper and improper installation.

Certification Solution

Threats of safety and regulatory backlash have prompted many telecommunications companies to pressure SLAB containment system manufacturers for answers. Motivated by both customer and internal battery containment concerns, Enviroguard consulted a battery industry expert about a certification program. As a result, an organization to develop training and certification of SLAB containment system installers began (see Origins of Certification, on page 16).

Companies participating in the certification program may receive training for personnel or contact certified installers referred through the organization. Certified installations provide certificates for facility personnel to post on-site. This document assures building code inspectors of proper installation and certification.

As the number of facilities using stationary lead-acid batteries continues to increase, the industry will see more monetary and safety problems from improper containment. In the past, many facilities disregarded compliance, either from lack of code knowledge or careless solutions. In today's litigious environment, small and large companies are seeking protection from serious safety problems and liability by requiring certification and battery containment system installation. That makes for a win-win situation for everyone.

Compliance Codes for SLABs

Many local, state, and federal agencies publish codes or standards on battery compliance solutions. For more information, check out A National Resource of Global Standards at www.nssn.org and search by agency or document. The following agencies address stationary lead-acid battery containment:

ANSI: American National Standards Institute (www.ansi.org)
ASSE: American Society of Safety Engineers (www.asse.org)
ASTM: American Society for Testing Materials (www.astm.org)
BOCA: Building Officials and Code Administrators International Inc.
(www.bocai.org)
CFR: Code of Federal Regulations (www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/index.html)
CSI: Construction Specification Institute (www.csinet.org)
FMERC: Factory Mutual Research Corporation (www.factorymutual.com)
ICBO: International Conference of Building Officials (www.icbo.org)
IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (www.ieee.org)
NFPA: National Fire Protection Agency (www.nfpa.org)
OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (www.osha.gov)
SBCCI: Southern Building Code Congress International Inc. (www.sbcci.org)
UL: Underwriters Laboratory (www.ul.com)


Origins of Certification

Last year, the Electrical Environmental Compliance and Certification Organization (E2 CCO) was established in Boca Raton, Fla. This membership-driven organization offers certification in the stationary battery market and courses in general facility maintenance, telecommunications installation, and UPS switching.

Course curriculum includes lectures, videos, and hands-on training. Those who successfully complete a written exam and hands-on evaluation receive certification for one year, and certifications are renewed annually.

E2 CCO is forming industry-specific advisory boards composed of experienced field personnel and manufacturers. These boards will develop course outlines and procedures for each specialization within the field.

Developed as an independent organization, E2 CCO does not affiliate with or endorse specific products and manufacturing techniques. Its goal is to remain impartial and open to all suggestions and recommendations.