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Handling Mercury & Phosphors







Fluorescent lamps are low-pressure discharge lamps that operate on the following principle: After ignition, mercury vapour in the glass tube emits UV radiation. This radiation is converted by the phosphors on the inside of the glass tube into visible light, in a light colour that depends on the phosphors used.


Regardless of the configuration (linear or compact) each lamp is comprised of a glass tube, a cathode assembly on each end of the tube and a cap or contact assembly to facilitate effective contact with the lampholder. Inside this tube are phosphor powders and mercury.


No adverse effects are expected from occasional exposure to broken lamps. 

Phosphor: A five-year study of phosphor by the Industrial Hygiene Foundation of the Mellon Institute found no significant adverse effects, either by ingestion, inhalation, skin contact, or eye implant.  Also, there have been no significant adverse effects on humans by any of these routes during the many years of its manufacture or use.  The phosphor is somewhat similar to the inert calcium phosphate-fluorides that occur in nature.  Phosphor is not phosphorous.  Heavy metals were removed from phosphor fifteen years ago or more.  At the end of lamp life mercury is attached to these phosphors.

Mercury: “Breaking one medical fever thermometer is unlikely to threaten the health of the consumer. Proper cleanup of spilled mercury and adequate ventilation can minimize the risks even further.”  Since the average 36/40W (four-foot) fluorescent lamp manufactured in 2006 contains 5 milligrams, or about 100 times less mercury than is contained in a typical 700-milligram fever thermometer and a typical compact fluorescent lamp contains even less mercury, lamp breakage would appear to cause virtually no risk of harm.  However, the legal requirements for disposal may be quite different. Consult Worksafe Australia for the latest information related to exposure standards for mercury.


The Storage of any fluorescent lamp/tube, new or used, must be done in a manner that will prevent the accidental breakage of the bulbs. Fluorescent lamps should be stored flat and in the shipping materials supplied by the manufacturer. Do not store linear lamps vertically as damage is possible to the two pins on the metal cap on the end.



No special precautions are needed for physically handling lamps or for changing them at the end of their life (do not work, flickering, low light output) however it good practice to wear eye protection if the lamp is overhead

NOTE: It is good practice to change the starter at the same time lamps are replaced. ‘Rapid Start’ lamps do not require external starters


If lamps are broken, care must be taken to minimize exposure to the dust and broken glass. Maintain a lamp spill kit consisting of a plastic bucket with lid, heavy duty rubbish bags, small hand broom, dustpan, and visor and cut-proof gloves near the used lamps. This will facilitate in the clean up in the event of a breakage.

Where concentrations of mercury are unknown the services of an occupational hygienist should be engaged. Contact the Australian Occupational Industrial Hygienists Association for more details at

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Wet mopping techniques should be used to clean up phosphor powder deposits.

If there is a considerable amount of phosphor powder & glass shards to be collected use of a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter should be considered; do not use domestic vacuum cleaners.

PPE requirements-Broken lamp below Eye level

Hands           Use cut-proof or nitrile gloves with close fitting tops (or consider tapping closed)

Eye & Face    Use a protective spectacles approved to AS/NZS1337.

Respiratory    Use a half face respirator with filters rated at P1 or better. Consult AS/NZS1715 for more information on selection use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment

PPE requirements –Broken lamp above Eye level

Hands  Use cut-proof or nitrile gloves with close fitting tops (or consider tapping closed)

Eye & Face  Use a full face shield that includes a ‘brow guard’

Respiratory  Use a half face respirator with filters rated at P1 or better. Consult AS/NZS1715 for more information on selection use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment

NOTE: Where bulk quantities of fluorescent lamps are used/stored consideration should be made to keeping a cleanup kit ready to be deployed. Contents of this kit could include:

  • Use aspirator bulb or suction device to collect mercury beads (Do not use a vacuum cleaner). By using a scraper or a piece of cardboard you can consolidate the mercury beads.
  • Mop up mercury with Hg decontaminating powder. Commercial mercury spill cleanup sponges and spill kits are available through various laboratory safety equipment suppliers.
  • Filters for half face respirators with mercury absorbing characteristics MSA and 3M are two companies with such products in their range.

Used (broken and intact) lamps should be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. Some recycling companies have dedicated fluorescent lamp recycling processes (crush and separation technologies) in place.


This document is intended to provide general information about the safe handling of fluorescent lamps. Where a particular workplace has circumstances that have specific challenges in assessing/meeting their obligations to the OHS Act and Environmental Protection Act in the respective state jurisdictions; a risk assessment needs to be conducted by the managers concerned and each aspect addressed.