UL Sets the Record Straight on Safety and Compact Fluorescent Lamps

February 23, 2009

Saving energy, reducing costs, and helping the environment are top priorities for many consumers. These days, it’s hard to watch television without hearing about how you can help the environment by “going green.”

One increasingly popular way of contributing to the green movement is to install compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), a fluorescent bulb designed to emit as much light as traditional light bulbs while using less energy. While consumers are highly receptive to these energy-saving products, conflicting messages about CFLs are leaving people confused about the safety of the lamps, specifically regarding mercury and end-of-life issues when a lamp burns out.

Each year, retailers sell approximately 130-150 million CFLs which use about 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer. CFLs also produce about 75% less heat, so they’re safer to operate and can cut home cooling costs. To put savings into perspective, if you presently use 50 lamps (100 watts), you’re saving about $550/year in electricity.

“Because of the energy-saving benefits, it’s no surprise many consumers are seeking out CFLs,” said John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager, Underwriters Laboratories (UL). “As with any new product purchase, it’s important that consumers understand how the product works and how to properly use it.”

For as long as anyone can remember, light bulbs burn out the same way—a pop, a flash and, when shaken, the familiar rattle confirming that the bulb needs to be changed. With CFLs, everything consumers know about a bulb burning out changes.

“People expect to see the bright flash and to hear the popping like a traditional incandescent bulb, but the burn out of a CFL is different. The light dims over time and might produce a more dramatic pop, emit a distinct odor, and maybe even release some smoke,” said Drengenberg.

In some cases, Drengenberg said that the plastic at the base of a CFL can turn black, but comments that this is also normal in most cases, as safety standards require the use of special flame retardant plastics in the base that do not burn or drop particles.

“CFLs are one of the products that we regularly test and investigate to specific UL requirements for electrical safety, fire and shock hazards,” he said. “Any popping sounds or smoke that a consumer might see when a CFLs burns out means that the bulb’s end-of-life mechanism worked as it should have.”

Experts also note that many brand-name manufacturers are now incorporating innovative end-of-life mechanisms into CFLs that cause the bulbs to burn out more like the traditional incandescent bulbs.

Finally, consumers should look for the UL Mark on packaging when purchasing CFLs, as the UL Mark means UL engineers have tested representative samples of the product for safety hazards. “If the CFL carries the UL Mark, consumers know that UL has investigated that product to specific safety requirements,” he said.

For decades, consumers have heard about potential dangers associated with mercury, a natural element often associated with thermometers and vaccines for children. Today, consumers are again hearing about mercury, but this time related to CFLs.

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury—approximately 5 milligrams—sealed within the glass tubing. To put the amount into perspective, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury, the equivalent of 100 CFLs.

Mercury is a critical component of CFLs and is what allows the lamp to turn on. No mercury is released when the lamps are intact or in use, and if the lamp is disposed of properly, mercury in CFLs shouldn’t be a safety hazard. In fact, consumers are more likely to suffer an injury installing the CFL, rather than from the CFL itself.

“In general, people are not injured by light bulbs, but instead are injured by falling off a ladder, for example, while installing the light bulb,” Drengenberg said, “And whether the consumer uses a CFL or incandescent bulb has no relevance to the type of injury.”

Drengenberg goes on to explain that CFLs are just another piece of technology to be aware of, like any other electronics in the house. Still, manufacturers recognize the negativity often associated with mercury and are working to reduce mercury in fluorescent lighting products.

Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, they should be recycled rather than thrown out in the trash. Additionally, special considerations should be taken if a CFL should accidently break.  If you are concerned about mercury content in a CFL bulb, you can also go to the manufacturer’s Website for additional information.

CFLs aren’t the only energy-saving lighting option available today. Consumers also can purchase light emitting diodes, or LEDs, which are small light sources illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material.

LEDs produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs, making them exceptionally energy efficient. In fact, many LEDs use up to 90% less energy than an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light.

“CFLs are in the mature stage of development whereas LEDs are an emerging technology,” Drengenberg said. “Like all electronics, energy-saving lighting technologies are constantly evolving and LEDs, in particular, are one type of technology that continues to be fine-tuned.” UL is committed to evaluating products for safety, Drengenberg said.

“We continue to work in tandem with lighting manufacturers and other industry experts to develop and certify products that are as safe as, or safer, than the technologies they are replacing.”

Worker Killed When Moving Portable Storage Building: Lessons Learned

The North Carolina Department of Labor publishes information regarding a fatal work-related event in a workplace in their bi-monthly publication, The Labor Ledger. The following article was included in the January/February Edition of The Labor Ledger.

Fatal Event: On January 30, 2008, a 26-year-old employee was injured when the storage shed he was preparing for delivery to a customer fell off a jack and crushed him. He died the following day.

The victim had worked eight months for a company that was engaged in the production and the retail sales of portable exterior storage buildings and tool sheds. In preparation for a customer sale of a unit, the victim determined that work was required on the underside of the storage building. The victim used a jack to raise the front end of the storage building.

Cribbing, a mechanism for supporting a building, was not used appropriately to support the weight of the building. The weight of the front of the building remained on the jack as the victim positioned himself under the raised structure. As the victim performed work under the building, the building began to shift and fell off of the jack and onto the man.

It was not clear to the employer why the victim began work under the raised building. He had been instructed to perform activity that did not require the lifting of the building.

Notwithstanding the decision to work under the building, investigators determined that the victim had been trained in the safe method to raise and work under the buildings in preparation for customer delivery. This would include using two employees, proper use of a jack, and cribbing that would ensure the stability of the raised building.

This was the second accident in 2008 in North Carolina in which an employee was killed as a result of a jack failing. Generally, struck-by fatal events continue to be a leading cause of workplace deaths.

Struck-by events would include struck by vehicular equipment and accidents related to material handling. Employees must be alert while working in the vicinity of moving vehicular equipment, and material handling should be conducted with care.

In an attempt to address struck-by accidents relating to vehicular equipment, the N.C. Department of Labor is promoting Project Drive Safe, which is a highway workplace safety program.

. The hazard alert includes safe operating techniques, work zone safety guidelines, and worker training requirements.

The N.C. Department of Labor makes the following recommendations:

  • A jack should be properly placed for a lift—on firm ground or a sturdy foundation and centered appropriately according to the specific load.
  • A lifted load should be blocked or cribbed to maintain the desired height, and a jack should not be used to support a load.
  • Never get under a raised load supported by a jack.
  • A proper work procedure should be developed for conducting dangerous tasks and adherence to the procedures should be monitored and enforced.
  • Employees should be properly trained on the use of equipment available on a worksite, including jacks used.

Connecticut OSHA Warns Against Electrical Hazards When Working With or Near Overhead Power Lines

In Connecticut OSHA’s quarterly publication, CONN-OSHA Quarterly, a section titled “Hazard Corner” provides case studies of workplace accidents and fatalities that have occurred. The most recent article in this section deals with electrocutions.

The article states that in 2007, electrocution killed 212 workers in America. Of these deaths, 44% were a result of contact with overhead power lines. In Connecticut, such an incident killed a 30 year-old father of two. A groundsman was two weeks into his job for a tree trimming company when he was fatally electrocuted.

The company was clearing trees from power lines, which were being transferred to new poles. A co-worker was in an aerial lift bucket cutting branches. The branches were then collected and fed into a wood chipper. The groundsman was standing near the truck when the metal boom came too close to the power lines. Electricity arced from the power line and coursed through the bucket and truck. When the groundsman touched the truck, he was fatally electrocuted. His co-worker in the aerial bucket was unharmed but traumatized by the event.

In order to prevent this tragedy, power lines could have been sheathed or the power cut while tree work was performed. A workplace hazard assessment, required under OSHA regulations, would have identified risks and enabled workers to take precautionary action. OSHA standards related to but not limited to power lines include:

  • When working near energized lines or equipment, aerial lift trucks shall be grounded or barricaded and considered as energized equipment.
  • Employees standing on the ground shall avoid contacting equipment or machinery working adjacent to energized lines or equipment.
  • A person shall be designated to observe clearance of the equipment and give timely warning for all operations where it is difficult for the operator to maintain the desired clearance by visual means.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Publishes New Safety Manual

The 1,050 page book is used during construction, operations, maintenance, and research projects conducted by the USACE.

The manual was last revised in 2003, and the 2008 version parallels OSHA regulations for general industry and construction as well as including guidance based on other national standards. The guidelines included in the manual only deviate from these standards when research and/or accident experience deem it necessary.

$750,000 Fine for Fall Hazards

New York-based concrete construction contractor, doing business as Broadway Concrete, has agreed to pay a $750,000 fine as part of a settlement agreement with OSHA addressing hazards cited in the summer of 2008. The company will also take comprehensive steps to upgrade employee safety and health at its worksites.

In June 2008, OSHA cited Broadway Concrete and proposed $877,000 in penalties against the company for fall hazards at the 77 Hudson condominium construction project in Jersey City, New Jersey. The company initially contested the citations and penalties but withdrew its notice of contest as part of a settlement agreement, signed January 26, 2009, which reclassified 13 of the 15 willful citations as repeat violations.

Under the agreement, Broadway Concrete and its sister company, Regal Construction, have agreed to abate all the cited hazards and take the following additional steps beyond what is required under OSHA standards:

  • Select and employ a full-time chief of construction operations and a corporate safety director to oversee construction operations and have authority over senior job superintendents in safety and health related issues.
  • Employ a full-time site safety director on each large project and have a safety director inspect smaller projects at least once a week; the safety directors will have authority to stop work and direct changes to ensure site safety.
  • Reduce the salary of senior job superintendents who fail to comply with applicable OSHA and job safety practices.
  • Complete a comprehensive review of current construction means, methods and safety procedures, including a crew-based, task specific hazard assessment for every phase of current construction operations.
  • Develop a new corporate safety and health plan.
  • Finalize a site specific safety and health plan for each new project before work begins, ensure the job superintendent reads it and provides copies to onsite employees.
  • Provide safety and health management training to superintendents and supervisory personnel working on each site, and train company and subcontractor employees on each site’s safety and health plan.
  • Provide OSHA officials with information on major projects and access to all jobsites without need of a warrant for the next four years.

“This settlement commits and challenges these employers to take broad, effective and long-lasting steps to make employee safety and health a vital and ongoing business priority,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York. “Active and engaged safety and health management is a critical tool for reducing worksite hazards and their associated human and financial costs.”

$130,000 Fine for Willful, Serious, and Repeat Violations

OSHA has proposed $130,200 in fines against Novis Marine Ltd., a yacht design and fabrication company in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, for alleged willful, serious, and repeat violations of federal workplace safety standards.

OSHA’s investigation, opened in August 2008, resulted in one willful citation for fall hazards associated with open-sided floors and platforms, 23 alleged serious violations involving electrical and fire hazards, lack of personal protective equipment and stair railings, machine guarding and training deficiencies. Repeat violations involved a lack of explosion proof equipment in paint spray booths and other potential fire hazards.

“Failing to practice required OSHA safety and health standards is detrimental to the welfare of American workers,” said Rob Medlock, director of OSHA’s area office in Cleveland, Ohio. “Any employer who is committed to providing a safe place of work can avoid employee injuries and fatalities by following OSHA’s regulations.”

Novis Marine Ltd. designs and constructs yachts and sailboat spars for various brands. The company has been inspected by OSHA numerous times since 1995 and has been cited for a variety of safety and health violations.

OSHA Fines Henley Construction Inc. $63,000 for Safety Violations at Arkansas Worksite

OSHA has cited Henley Construction Inc. of Harrison, Arkansas, with two willful and three repeat violations of OSHA standards and has proposed $63,000 in penalties.

“Failure to protect employees from potential trenching and excavation hazards is unacceptable,” said Carlos Reynolds, OSHA’s area director in Little Rock, Arkansas. “It is fortunate in this case that on one was injured.”

OSHA’s Little Rock Area Office began its inspection on November 4, 2008, at the company’s worksites in Clinton. The investigation, which was part of OSHA’s National Emphasis Program, found alleged willful violations including the company’s failure to provide training in avoiding hazards associated with working in trenches 8-feet deep or more and failure to provide a means of egress while employees are working at excavation worksites that are 4-feet deep or more. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Repeat violations include failure to ensure employees working in trenches 8-feet deep are adequately protected from cave-ins and failure to provide the use of personal protective equipment. In this case, employees were not provided with hard hats. A repeat violation is defined as a violation that previously was cited where, upon re-inspection, a substantially similar violation is found.

OSHA Orders Union Pacific Railroad Co. to Reassign Worker to Former Position Following Whistleblower Investigation

OSHA has ordered Union Pacific Railroad Co., headquartered in Omaha, to reassign a Beverly, Iowa, welder to his former position, reimburse the welder for travel expenses, and pay compensatory damages associated with personal hardship following a whistleblower investigation.

OSHA investigated the employee’s allegation that Union Pacific retaliated against him for requesting a lookout while performing work on adjacent railroad tracks and asking for tools to make the field weld process safer.

The investigation found that the track maintenance manager illegally abolished the welder position in Beverly, forcing the worker to accept a welding position in Marshalltown, Iowa, which increased his daily commute by 131 miles and took him away from his family for extended periods of time.

“A supervisor does not have the right to abolish a job position because he becomes annoyed by a worker voicing safety concerns,” said Charles E. Adkins, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, Missouri. “While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also a federal government whistleblower protection agency.”

The railroad carrier was further ordered to provide whistleblower rights information to its employees. Either party in the case can file an appeal to the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

OSHA conducted the investigation under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) as amended by the 9/11 Act of 2007. Railroad carriers are subject to the provisions of the FRSA, which protects employees who report violations of any federal law, rule or regulation relating to railroad safety or security, or who engage in other activities protected by the act.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 16 other laws protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws; trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, workplace safety and health regulations; and consumer product safety laws. 

Under the various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.

OSHA Forms Training and Education Alliance with New England Laborers’ Training Academy

Exposure to trenching, scaffolding, and electrical hazards are at the focus of a new alliance between the Boston North Area Office of OSHA and the New England Laborers’ Training Academy (NELTA) in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The alliance will provide NELTA members and others with information and training resources to better protect workers’ safety and health.

“We welcome this opportunity to work with NELTA on providing workers with vital training that will help them better identify, prevent and eliminate work-related hazards that can result in injury or illness,” said Marthe Kent, OSHA’s New England regional administrator.

OSHA and NELTA will develop training and education programs to reduce and prevent workers’ exposure to other hazards including those of the caught in/between, struck-by, and fall protection variety.

“Knowledge is the most portable and the most valuable resource in any worker’s toolkit,” said Paul Mangiafico, director for OSHA’s Boston North area. “Laborers and others will be able to carry the information obtained here to any jobsite.”

OSHA and NELTA also will share best practices and effective approaches to safety and health, disseminate safety and health information through a variety of outreach activities, promote participation in OSHA’s cooperative programs, and encourage NELTA regional council members to build relationships with OSHA’s regional and area offices.

Downstate Illinois Workplace Safety and Health Day Aims to Protect Employees

Making and keeping the workplace safe and healthful will be the focus of the 18th annual Downstate Illinois Occupational Safety and Health (DIOSH) Day planned for March 4 at the Peoria Civic Center. Workplace safety and health issues will be discussed and information will be made available to employers, employees, and the general public.

The conference is being jointly sponsored by OSHA's Peoria Area Office, the American Society of Safety Engineers Central Illinois Chapter, the Prairie Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the Greater Peoria Contractors and Suppliers Association Inc., the Illinois Department of Labor, the Employers’ Association, and the Tri-County Construction Labor-Management Council.

Breakout sessions will address overlooked construction hazards, asbestos, lead and silica, combustible dust, heavy equipment and cranes, machine safeguarding, and several other topics. A mini health fair will feature blood pressure, heart rate and glucose level testing, as well as other valuable health screening services.

“Numerous exhibitors will join governmental and nonprofit organizations in demonstrating useful and innovative products and services designed to meet workplace safety and health goals,” said Nick Walters, director of OSHA’s area office in Peoria. “The conference will offer safety professionals in downstate Illinois the chance to network with hundreds of their peers and to learn about resources available to businesses and employers.”


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