Fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, which can pose serious health hazards if inhaled after a light bulb breaks. To reduce incidents of mercury poisoning in American workplaces, OSHA maintains and enforces requirements for securely covering flourescent light bulbs.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration maintains guidelines for employers throughout the United States to keep their employees safe from injuries and illnesses. In addition to general guidelines, the agency maintains additional guidelines for industries where workers face specific safety risks. Most workplaces contain items and equipment that may pose a safety hazard to workers. OSHA's guidelines do not eliminate these risks, but aim to reduce them by enforcing practices for handling them safely. Employees who recognize OSHA light cover violations in their workplaces should bring their concerns to their employers. An OSHA violation does not just put the company at risk of facing citations, it also puts in jeopardy workers’ safety.
Dangers of Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Fluorescent light bulbs, the bright lighting found in many commercial and industrial spaces, contain mercury. When a fluorescent light bulb breaks, it releases mercury vapor into the surrounding area. Inhaling mercury vapor can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system. To protect workers from exposure to mercury from broken fluorescent light bulbs, OSHA created requirements for safely covering them in workplaces. The agency also issued guidelines for safely cleaning up shattered glass and chemical materials after a fluorescent light bulb breaks. Failure to adhere to these guidelines can result in an OSHA citation for the employer, along with a substantial fine.
Protective Coverings for All Light Fixtures
All light fixtures, whether they contain fluorescent bulbs or not, must have protective plates. In areas where light fixtures could be damaged, they must be guarded by sufficiently strong barriers to prevent shattering. This requirement covers pull boxes, fittings and junction boxes, and applies even when there is just a minute chance of a worker coming into physical contact with the light bulb.
Additional OSHA Requirements
Light fixtures should be at least 7 feet above all work surfaces to reduce the chance of accidental contact with a worker. When they are situated at lower heights, the light tubes must be contained in OSHA-compliant shatterproof shields. Light fixtures may not have any exposed live parts. Live parts are the components of electrical devices that operate on electrical current, like electrical conductors within the fixture. The openings on fixtures must be small enough that an employee cannot accidentally put a finger into the fixture and suffer an electric shock.
All electrical equipment must be firmly mounted to the wall onto which it is affixed. For light fixtures that operate at 600 volts or more, OSHA requires that employers cover fittings and keep them securely fastened shut at all times, including when the fittings are waiting to be painted or serviced. If a system operates on less than 600 volts, this requirement does not apply.