Fluorescent light bulbs may be environmentally friendly and more energy-efficient than regular incandescent light bulbs, but they pose a potentially serious health risk when broken. To help protect workers from mercury exposure from fluorescent light bulbs, dispose of and recycle the bulbs properly. If you break a fluorescent bulb, be careful and clean up the area while avoiding or minimizing mercury exposure. If a new fluorescent bulb breaks, it will release more mercury than a spent bulb.
• What are some potential problems associated with fluorescent light bulbs?
• What is hazardous about fluorescent lights?
• How should you dispose of old fluorescent light bulbs?
• How should you clean up broken fluorescent light bulbs?
• How can employers learn more about the hazards of fluorescent light bulbs?
Have a cleanup plan. Be careful to clean up the area while avoiding or minimizing mercury exposure. Proper cleanup will reduce workers’ exposure to the low levels of mercury anticipated. Open the windows in the area and then leave; let the air clear for 15 minutes to reduce mercury vapor levels before returning to clean up the broken bulb; keep coworkers out of the area until cleanup is complete; use personal protective equipment, including coveralls, rubber gloves, safety goggles for protection from broken glass, and, if engineering or
administrative controls are not adequate to control mercury levels, the use of a respirator may be necessary; prepare a sealable container that will hold all broken glass and cleanup materials and prevent further release of mercury vapors; carefully pick up large pieces of glass and put them in the prepared disposal container; use two stiff pieces of paper, such as index cards, to collect smaller shards. Use sticky tapes, such as duct tape or packing tape, to pat the area and pick up fine dust; go over the area with a damp paper towel to clean up the finest particles; put all debris and cleanup materials into the prepared disposal container and label as “Universal Waste-Broken Lamp.” Place the sealed container in an appropriate storage area for universal waste; wash your gloves, remove them, and wash your hands and face. Don’t use a vacuum cleaner to clean up broken fluorescent bulbs; vacuuming spreads mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and contaminates the vacuum.
To address those potential risks and to help employers better protect their workers who may recycle or otherwise dispose of fluorescent bulbs, OSHA offers two new resources to help employers ensure their workers are protected when handling fluorescent bulbs.
OSHA’s new Quick Card outlines the hazards of mercury and provides information on cleaning up broken fluorescent bulbs to minimize workers’ exposure to mercury. The Fact Sheet explains how workers may be exposed, the kinds of engineering controls and personal protective equipment required, and how to use these controls and equipment. Proper cleanup will reduce workers’ exposure to mercury vapors and fine dust.
As always, be safe out there!