Hydrogen Sulfide Exposure

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that has a distinctive odor of rotten eggs. The chemical formula for this inorganic compound is H2S. It is a byproduct of desulfurization and is naturally present in the deposits of oil and gas. Those who work in the oil and natural gas drilling industries could be exposed to H2S during the course of performing their duties.

Because this gas is heavier than air, it tends to settle at the bottom of an area and accumulate there. This can make it toxic for workers who are near the highest concentrations. It is flammable and is an eye irritant. It is important to note that if introduced to a flame it can produce sulfur oxide, SO2, a type of harmful gas.

Harmful Exposure

Hydrogen sulfide is toxic when it is inhaled. It is extremely flammable and therefore working with it can be risky. There are a number of health hazards due to contact with the inorganic compound. The substance can actually cause a person to become desensitized to the odor, which can result in increased contact. There is a danger of acute toxicity that could be fatal when exposed to this gas in high concentrations. Exposure to levels of more than 100 parts per million is an immediate life-threatening emergency.

Short exposure can also cause serious health concerns. The substance causes harm to the nervous system and can paralyze the respiratory system. Contact should be limited to an average of 5 parts per million over a period of five minutes. Contact should not exceed four times a day, and the incidence of exposure must be followed by a period of 60 minutes without exposure.

OSHA Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for companies to evaluate and control the exposure of this gas. In situations where H2S is known to be present, the company should identify the sources and evaluate them as hazards for the possibility of explosion or fire.  The air must be tested and monitored to determine the presence of this gas. Testing in confined spaces needs to be done according to OSHA standards. OSHA recommends using detector tubes, gas monitors with immediate readouts, alarms, and explosion meters.

Companies have to provide proper protection against the hazards of hydrogen sulfide exposure. In some cases, respirators can be used; however, they must meet the standards for H2S and must be properly fitted. Exhaust or ventilation systems may be utilized when appropriate. Workers must be properly educated about the dangers of contact with H2S and trained in safety operations and rescue and emergency plans. Emergency responders need to know about the H2S dangers that are present and know how to effectively perform a rescue utilizing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

What to Do After Exposure to H2S

Those who are exposed to a dangerous level of H2S may suffer serious medical problems as a result. The company is responsible for ensuring a safe work environment. The failure to provide proper safety equipment as well as training and education about safely working in the presence of this gas might mean that the company was negligent. If negligence caused or contributed to an injury, the employee may be entitled to compensation for medical costs and other expenses.

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