Anyone who has changed a fluorescent tube knows that these tubes are extremely durable when in place, but before and after installation even a slight knock or tap can cause them to shatter.
Taking care to avoid these types of issues during removal or installation is always the best option, but the fluorescent bulbs can and will break, resulting in the need for clean-up.
It is important to realize the compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) types of bulbs are more problematic than standard fluorescent tubes, but both contain relatively low levels of mercury and other types of vapors. Following basic safety precautions and avoiding common mistakes will ensure the area is safe.
The first step is to evacuate the room, including your pets. Open a window and turn off the furnace or air conditioner to avoid recirculating the air at this time. Close the door, if there is one, and try to stay out of the area for about 15 minutes, longer if possible.
When fluorescent bulbs break, do not touch the glass or the powder from the bulbs with your hands. Instead, use plastic gloves or disposable gloves to handle all the material. Pick up the larger pieces and place them in a glass jar or other type of sealed container. A plastic bag or a cardboard box will not stop the gas and vapor from escaping.
Use duct tape or packing tape to pull up the powder and the tiny glass shards. Try not to use a broom as this can move the dust into the air. Do not use a vacuum, even a hand vacuum, as this will suck up the vapors and the fine dust particles and they will be expelled into the air through the vacuum exhaust.
Once all the powder and shards are off the floor or area, use a damp disposable cloth or paper towel to wipe down the area. Place the gloves and the cloth or paper towel in the container with the glass and used tape and seal.
Do not throw it into a garbage can in the house. Instead, take it to the outside trash were any vapors still present will be dispersed into the air.
If fluorescent bulbs break on carpeting or on furniture, it is important to avoid contact with the skin in that area, particularly for infants or pregnant women. Pets should also be kept off of the rug or furniture for several hours after cleaning. Vacuum or use a carpet or upholstery cleaner and keep the area well ventilated for a few hours.