The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Cleaning-up a Broken Fluorescent Lamp Globe

Graham Marshall - Monday, September 03, 2012

Fluorescent lamp globes (e.g., strip lights) contains a small amount of mercury, which can present a hazard if the lamp is broken.

To prevent the mercury from harming people, the best option is to use "elimination" or "substitution" methods from the hierarchy of safety control. 

That means considering alternatives to fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken or in bedrooms or carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children, or pregnant women.

It is also worth considering putting a drop cloth on the floor so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up the next time you do have to replace a fluorescent globe.

Also, consider not storing too many used/spent lamps before recycling as that may increase your chances of breakage.

So what should you do if a fluorescent lamp is broken (e.g., dropped on the floor and smashed)?

Well, the good news is that you can clean this up yourself if you do the following:

•  Immediately open any windows in the room where the breakage occurred, and then leave the area for 15 minutes. Mercury vapour levels will be lower by then;

•  Keep people and pets away from the breakage area;

•  Don't use a vacuum cleaner because this method of clean-up will spread the mercury vapour and contaminate the vacuum;

•  Start the clean-up by carefully removing the larger pieces of broken glass and place them in a secure closed container, preferably a glass container with a metal screw top lid and seal like a canning jar.  A glass jar with a good seal works best to contain any mercury vapors inside;

•  For maximum protection and if you have them, wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp glass;

•  Collect the smaller pieces and dust. Use stiff paper or card to scoop up the smaller pieces;
•  Pat the area with the sticky side of duct tape, packing tape or masking tape to pick up fine particles;

•  Wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel to pick up even finer particles;
•  Put all the broken glass and waste, including all material used in the cleanup that may have been contaminated with mercury into the container;

•  Remove the container with the breakage and cleanup materials from your home. This is particularly important if you do not have a glass container;
•  Continue ventilating the room for several hours;

•  Wash your hands and face;
•  Find out where your Local Authority has made arrangements for recycling of this type of waste, and take the container to that location;

•  When a break happens on carpeting, consider removing throw rugs or the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly if the rug or carpet is in an area frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women;
•  Finally, if the carpet is not removed, open the window to the room during the next several times you vacuum the carpet to provide good ventilation.

Don’t forget to properly recycle your used fluorescent bulbs so they don’t break and put mercury into our environment.

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