Compact fluorescent lights, this common household product, used everywhere to light up our homes, workplaces, shopping centres and supermarkets, contains mercury. The good news is that the mercury level in a unit of the compact fluorescent light (CFL), once broken, is considered to be low (Department of Environment and Energy) particularly when compared to the now outdated mercury thermometers. Short term exposure which is relevant to the common household user dealing with CFL does not constitute a significant risk (Department of Environment and Energy). But multiply the amount of CFL units you potentially deal with as part of your work and the likelihood of encountering a broken CFL unit; long term, there could be some health issues if exposed to mercury.
Why don’t you want mercury exposure?
Mercury exposure can lead to tremors, mood and memory changes, vision, breathing and neuromuscular changes, and performance deficits (OSHA & NCBI). So simply put, it affects your brain and changes behaviours and bodily functions.
Actions you can take to reduce exposure are:
- Have a non spreading clean up plan – don’t use brooms, use a specific vacuum cleaner to contain mercury so it does not become airborne.
- Ask your employer for educational training on safe handling, cleaning and health effects
- Isolate the workplace, where CFLs are handled and recycled in one contained area away from the rest of the workplace, toilets, break room and admin areas.
- Check if your floor surface is not carpet as carpet retain dust
- Check if there is enough ventilation to disperse the mercury vapour from the crushing machines in your recycling facility
- Check if there is air monitoring in the workplace to ensure mercury particles are not readily airborne from your operations.
- Wear your PPE, especially respiratory protection
- Consider wearing disposable or reusable protective clothing so you don’t take your work wear home
- Ask your employer for medical monitoring of your lungs and kidney, eyes, skin and mercury measurement in urine.