Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Troubleshooter: Light bulb maintenance

September 19, 2010

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 service that can be lucrative, but may also be a trouble spot and even dangerous if done improperly or without the correct tools or training, is lighting maintenance.

Lighting maintenance consists of replacing and disposing of a client''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.

Attention to detail and caring for the environment are especially true when changing fluorescent light bulbs.

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

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

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

Proper disposal

The big environmental concern with most 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.

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.

Check with your local regulations regarding disposal as each state has different guidelines.

Safety rules

Although it may seem that anyone can change a light bulb, it can be a dangerous task if performed improperly, and BSCs who wish to add this service must pay strict attention to all aspects, including ladder safety.

Several years back, a worker in Iowa climbed a ladder to change a light bulb in a hardware store.

In the process of removing the burned-out bulb, he lost his footing on the ladder and fell 18 feet, landing on his head.

He died shortly after.

When changing a light bulb in a commercial setting, 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 safely using any ladder 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.

A great number of ladder accidents are the result of using a ladder that is too short for the task.

Other points to consider include:

  • Don''t carry equipment while climbing a ladder. Invest in a tool belt or have someone hand the equipment to you.

  • Face the ladder when climbing up and down; keep your body centered between both side rails.

  • While up on the ladder, don''t overextend your reach. Make sure you keep your weight evenly distributed.

  • Never move a ladder while standing on it. Always make sure people and equipment are off the ladder before moving or closing it.

  • Never stand on a ladder''s bucket shelf. Read and follow the warning stickers for highest standing levels.

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

However, the right tools, along with proper training and good old commonsense, are essential — as is an awareness of how to do the task in a healthy and environmentally preferable way.

Mike Nelson is vice president of marketing for Pro-Link, a JanSan-focused marketing and buying group based in Canton, MA. He was directly involved in preparing and writing Pro-Link''s BSC Resource Book, which is available to the group''s members. He can be reached at 800-74-LINKS or