Shift to energy efficient light bulbs calls for more attention to mercury exposure
Brooms should not be used to clean up broken fluorescent light bulbs because they can spread any mercury that has been released. Likewise, vacuums should not be used unless they are specially designed to collect mercury.
Those are among the tips to prevent risks from mercury exposure to workers involved with fluorescent bulbs. The shift toward the more efficient light bulbs requires employers to take steps to protect their workers, according to OSHA.The agency has released new educational resources to reduce mercury exposure from fluorescent bulbs.
Mercury vapor is colorless and odorless. It can impact workers when a fluorescent bulb is accidentally broken or in processes that involve breaking or crushing the bulbs.
Inhaling mercury vapors or having contact with the skin can cause a variety of health problems. Mild tremors, subtle effects on mood, impaired memory and coordination, and skin irritation or allergy are among the signs of mercury poisoning. Exposure to high levels can cause coughing, chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore gums, eye irritation, severe tremors, and changes in behavior or vision.
Through its new Fact Sheet and Quick Card, OSHA advises employers to provide:
- A cleanup plan in all workplaces where fluorescent bulbs are deliberately broken or crushed. The plan should offer details on how to safely clean up incidental mercury released from broken bulbs.
- Training to educate workers about mercury exposure and safe practices and procedures.
- Process isolation so areas where fluorescent bulbs are broken or recycled are separated from areas where workers are not involved with bulb processing.
- Flooring that is easy to clean such as hard, smooth surfaces instead of carpet that can absorb mercury.
- Ventilation in work areas.
- Evaluation and maintenance to ensure equipment and ventilation systems are functioning properly.
- Air monitoring.
- Respiratory protection if engineering and administrative controls do not prevent concentrations of mercury from exceeding OSHA's permissible exposure limit -- equal to 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter of air.
- Personal protective equipment such as coveralls, booties, gloves, face shields, and safety goggles to prevent skin and eye contact.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
September 13, 2012
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