OSHA Mercury Exposure Requirements
- Exposure to mercury vapor shall not exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average limit of 1 mg/10 M3 (0.1 mg/M3) [29 CFR 1910.1000] [Table Z-2] and Allowable Airborne Concentrations of Mercury – Interpretation Letter (06/30/1976).
- Employers must select and provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for clean-up of spills [29 CFR 1910.134] and [1910.132].
- No employee must be allowed to consume food or beverages in an area exposed to mercury [29 CFR 1910.141(g)(2)].
Here are some strategic steps for eventually achieving mercury-free health care:
Short-term: Develop and implement plans to reduce the use of mercury equipment and replace it with mercury-free alternatives. Plans should address clean-up, storage, and disposal of mercury.
Medium-term: Increase efforts to reduce the use of unnecessary mercury equipment in hospitals. Hospitals should have an inventory of their use of mercury. Categorize this inventory into either immediately replaceable or gradually replaceable.
Long-term: Support a ban on mercury-containing devices and promote alternatives. Support countries in developing a national guidance manual for sound management of health care mercury waste. Support countries in the development and implementation of a national plan, policies, and legislation on mercury health care waste. Support the allocation of human and financial resources to ensure the procurement of mercury-free alternatives and sound management of health care waste containing mercury.
Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a 529-bed hospital that has committed to reaching mercury-free status. To help achieve this goal, the hospital is implementing a new purchasing policy that restricts the purchase of mercury-containing devices unless a mercury-free alternative is not available. The hospital estimates there is one and one-half pounds of mercury used per bed in their facility. Here are some of Butterworth’s outstanding mercury reduction efforts:
- The hospital is in the process of removing all the mercury from the hospital’s sphygmomanometers; they estimate that they will have harvested 290 pounds of mercury when they are finished.
- The surgery department switched its esophageal dilators.
- Mercury-containing thermometers and batteries will no longer be purchased.
- Butterworth no longer sends mercury-containing devices overseas in their humanitarian projects.
- They found pneumatic tubes that have mercury switches and are changing these out.
- The hospital is doing drain trap testing to justify lab replacements.
- A mobile fluorescent lamp recycling unit will go to the hospital to crush the lamps on site.
Butterworth’s mercury reduction activities are not without difficulties. The labs were resistant because the pathologists relied on mercury chloride slide fixatives. The pathologists believe there are no alternatives as precise and accurate.