You didn't have a choice about going to florescent bulbs in the workplace. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is going to be holding you responsible for their health and safety effects on your work sites anyway.

This summer, OSHA has been on a push to alert and educate employers and workers alike about the hazards of florescent light bulbs. At issue: These bulbs contain mercury - a highly toxic substance.

Workers can be exposed to mercury through skin contact, ingestion, and through breathing in mercury vapor. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Pink cheeks, toes and fingertips
  • Mood changes
  • Allergic reactions
  • Poor coordination
  • Skin irritation or peeling
  • Burning sensation
  • Hair loss
  • Fingernail loss or brittleness
  • Extensive sweating
  • High blood pressure or elevated heart rate

 

Here are some safety tips for you and your employees to protect you from mercury exposure from these bulbs:

  • Mercury is a silver metal that is liquid at room temperature.
  • Do not touch exposed mercury.
  • Never deliberately crush or break florescent light bulbs. Doing so releases the mercury.
  • Do not try to sweep up mercury with a broom. That will just spread the substance around.
  • Get a vacuum cleaner that is specifically rated to clean up mercury. Standard vacuums will release mercury contaminated air into the atmosphere. Never use a standard, non-mercury-rated vacuum cleaner for mercury spills.
  • Build a mercury clean-up kit that includes goggles, protective overgarments, sealable containers and chemically resistant gloves.
  • Clean up tiny broken glass particles with sticky tape prior to wiping area down.
  • Post a mercury clean-up plan prominently in your workplace and rehearse it from time to time.
  • Keep mercury bulbs in areas with smooth, easy-to-clean floor surfaces. Mercury spills on carpet are very difficult to clean.
  • Place all potentially contaminated glass and other debris in a sealable jar or other sealable container, isolating the mercury and contaminated material from the atmosphere.
  • When there is a spillage or there is a broken bulb, immediately ventilate the area by opening all doors and windows. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends clearing and ventilating a room for at least 15 minutes after a florescent bulb breaks.
  • Ensure workers wash hands thoroughly immediately after cleaning up mercury spills and broken florescent bulbs.

Disposal

Florescent bulbs, whether broken are not, should be treated as hazardous material for the purposes of disposal. This means that businesses are generally prohibited from throwing bulbs in the trash after they've worn out or broken. Specific requirements for businesses vary by state - but generally you will need to ship your bulbs out for recycling. You can find bulb recyclers and/or drop off sites in your area by doing a Google search using key words "bulb recycling" along with the name of your city.