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See the light

September 19, 2010
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Many building service contractors (BSCs) take on different add-on services such as floor, window, and carpet care to help improve their bottom line and make themselves a more crucial part of their clients’ business operations.

One such add-on service that can be lucrative — but is a potential trouble spot and even dangerous if done improperly or without the correct tools or training — is lighting maintenance.

The same holds true for in-house facility operations that opt to do their own lighting maintenance to save on outsourcing such work.

Here, too, maintenance crews need to know how to safely change their own light bulbs and maintain lighting fixtures.

Fluorescents last, but not forever
Lighting maintenance consists of replacing and disposing of a facility’s light bulbs in a safe, cost-effective, and efficient manner.

And today, with growing concerns about environmental issues, it should be performed in such a way that it does not negatively affect the environment or those performing the task.

This is especially true when changing fluorescent light bulbs.

Fluorescents are the most commonly found light bulb in commercial facilities.

Although they come in a variety of sizes, they are usually long and thin with electrical connections at either end.

These are long-lasting bulbs, are relatively inexpensive, and produce little or no heat, which adds to their popularity.

To safely replace most fluorescent light bulbs:
  • Turn off the light fixture at the switch and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
  • Select a replacement bulb of the correct length for the fixture.
  • Remove the diffuser (if fitted) by unclipping it.
  • Twist the tube a quarter turn to allow the contact pins at each end of the tube to drop down through the grooves in the end-support brackets.
  • Place the old tube in a safe location where it will not be stepped on or moved.
  • Slide the new tube into the contact pins and up through the grooves in the end-support brackets.
  • Twist the tube a quarter turn to hold it in place.
  • Switch on the light to be sure it works.
Proper disposal
The big environmental concern with fluorescents is disposal of the bulbs.

Most of these light bulbs contain a small amount of metallic mercury (Hg), which extends the life of the bulb and maximizes the amount of light produced.

However, if mercury gets into the atmosphere, it can convert to ionic mercury, known as Hg++ or mercury two.

In this state, it can dissolve in water, allowing it to become harmful to fish, plants, and other living things. It can also enter the food chain, potentially causing health hazards for humans as well.

These bulbs are manufactured in such a way that the mercury enclosed will not be released unless the bulb is broken.
And while each bulb contains only a small amount of mercury, if many are disposed of and broken at the same time — when tossed in the trash, for example — it can pose a threat to workers and the environment.

Safety rules
Although it may seem that anyone can change a light bulb, it can be a dangerous task if performed improperly, and maintenance crews must pay strict attention to all aspects, including ladder safety.

When changing a light bulb, the worker should turn off the fixture.

A path should be cleared around the bulb to be changed, giving the worker ample room to carefully access the fixture.

Because ladders are often necessary to change light bulbs, ladder safety is of paramount concern.

The first step in using any ladder safely is to read the instructions included in the manufacturer’s use and care booklet.

These instructions contain important guidelines regarding weight and height limits.

The ladder selected should be nonmetallic. This helps reduce the possibility of electric shock.

Also, always use a ladder that is long enough for the job at hand.

Many ladder accidents are the result of using a ladder that is too short for the task.

Let common sense prevail
Compared to other add-on services, lighting maintenance is one of the least expensive for BSCs to add to their arsenal of services.

At the same time, it is also a service in-house facility operations might consider doing themselves in light of tight budgetary constraints.

There are no expensive tools or equipment to purchase. However, the right tools, along with proper training and good old
common sense, are essential — as is an awareness of how to do the task in a healthy and environmentally preferable way.


Joe Flanagin is a seasoned JanSan professional who has worked for Tornado Industries, Pro-Link and in the safety supply industry. He is director of national accounts for Pro-Link, a national full-service janitorial supply organization based in Canton, MA. He can be reached at 1-800-74-LINKS.
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