Workers who are commissioned to deal with fluorescent light bulbs while on the job are at risk for safety issues during handling, recycling, or crushing used bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs are a popular choice for residential and commercial locations because they are more efficient and provide energy-saving alternatives to incandescent bulbs and some business deal solely with the recycling or disposal off the bulbs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers resources that warn of the dangers of handling fluorescent light bulbs due to the mercury contained inside. Mercury is toxic to humans even in small quantities. The bulbs pose no risk until they are broken or punctured in anyway whether during the disposal process or when broken by accident. Mercury is a liquid when kept at room temperature but it can also become a vapor. Fluorescent bulbs do have some liquid mercury but are made up mostly of mercury vapor.
If a bulb is broken and the mercury is released, workers who are not wearing the proper protective gear are at risk for being exposed to the mercury and can suffer serious side effects. Mercury affects the human nervous system, the kidneys, and the skin. Being poisoned by mercury can cause problems with memory, coordination, and result in tremors. Workers who are exposed to high levels of mercury may experience vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, breathing issues, eye problems, and chest discomfort.
Typically when a bulb is broken mercury vapor takes to the air and workers are susceptible to breathing in the toxins. It is important workers are protected from the vapors by using proper respiratory protection equipment. The skin will also need to be protected from liquid mercury with disposable clothing. All workers should be properly trained in spill response so cleanups will be efficient and safe. Employers should also be monitoring the air quality for dangerous levels of mercury present in the work environment when large amounts of bulbs are being handled.