Avoiding Mercury Exposure from Fluorescent Bulbs in the Workplace
Compact fluorescent light bulbs were first introduced in the 1970's but didn't become commonplace in the workplace until the past 2 decades. They are durable, energy efficient alternatives to incandescent bulbs allowing your workplace to be more efficient and show significant cost savings. Unfortunately, the greater efficiency and cost savings come with some risks to those workers who handle, recycle and dispose of them.
If fluorescent light bulbs are crushed or broken, the release of mercury vapor may pose a significant health hazard to your employees. Mercury vapor has been known to cause nervous system disorders such as tremors, kidney problems and damage to unborn children.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to set and enforce those standards.
In an effort to educate employers and workers on the safety hazards that Mercury poses and how to work safely when crushing and recycling fluorescent bulbs, OSHA released a Quick Card and a Fact Sheet. These 2 educational pieces, alert employers and workers about the dangers associated with fluorescent bulbs.
Reducing mercury exposure:
Respiratory protection is required if feasible engineering and administrative controls do not prevent concentrations of mercury from exceeding OSHA's permissible exposure limit (PEL). If respirators are used, the employer must establish and implement a respiratory protection program in accord with OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as coveralls, booties, gloves, face shields and safety goggles to prevent skin and eye contact. Employers must assess the workplace to identify hazards and provide appropriate protective equipment under OSHA's General Requirements for Personal Protective Equipment (29 CFR 1910.132) effectiveness.
In the event of a broken bulb, each workplace should have:
Brooms should never be used to clean the broken bulbs since the broom bristles will spread the mercury;
Proper training is imperative. All workers should know the risks involved with mercury exposure and they should be trained in ways to help to reduce the risks of overexposure.
Signs of mercury exposure can include:
Changes in behavior;
Irritation to eyes;
There are strict state and EPA regulations for disposing of fluorescent bulbs and keeping your employees safe. Be sure to follow all of the necessary safety precautions to ensure that your employees go home safe everyday.
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