Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas that can cause immediate death at high concentrations. At low concentrations, the gas gives off a sour, rotten egg smell. This is why the gas also goes by the name sour gas. It is a flammable colorless fume that is heavier than air and can accumulate in low-lying area. The gas causes victims to lose their sense of smell rapidly, meaning that when it is present at its most dangerous concentrations the gas is odorless.
Highly toxic to the body, hydrogen sulfide causes a number of adverse reactions in those exposed to it. Typically the nervous system suffers the most damage from exposure, but damage can also include:
If exposed to a highly concentrated amount of hydrogen sulfide, a worker can face immediate respiratory paralysis and a high probability of death, even with the treatments currently available for victims of this toxic exposure.
In addition to the dangers of collapse and sudden death at high concentrations, the flammable gas can cause the risk of a fire or explosion. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) demands that individuals be protected from the dangers of hydrogen sulfide. This way, they will be kept in a safe work environment. Whenever exposure exceeds 10 Parts Per Million or has a risk to reach this level, then all workers must be briefed in the use of hydrogen sulfide safety equipment and the air should be tested for high exposure. All individuals should be provided with appropriate respiratory protection before they are sent to an area with a hydrogen sulfide risk.
According to OSHA, there is a risk for hydrogen sulfide exposure on oil refineries and drilling platforms. The American Petroleum Institute says that workers who are involved in drilling, downhole maintenance, plug and abandonment procedures, completion, servicing, and workover may be exposed to the dangerous chemical.
In addition to the fire and explosion hazard and the toxicity of the chemical, it can cause metal fatigue. This is when the hydrogen sulfide corrodes metals so that they are brittle. This can cause serious dangerous for maritime employees using anchors and guywires, cranes, gas cylinders, ladders, scaffolding, and other metal-based items.
All workplaces need to provide comprehensive training for workers who are at risk to hydrogen sulfide exposure. The OSHA suggests that employers teach workers how to identify the characteristics, sources, and hazards of the gas. Also, they should learn how to use a hydrogen sulfide detection method to test the air for the danger.
Workers need to be able to recognize and properly respond to hydrogen sulfide warnings at workplaces and learn how to detect the symptoms of hydrogen sulfide exposure. Those present at the worksite should also be trained in first aid medical attention for hydrogen sulfide exposure and learn how to use and maintain protective equipment. Some workers may need to attend a training course to specifically teach them how to use protective equipment.
Workers also need to learn how to detect the shifting chemicals due to wind direction and the routes of egress that are normally taken. They should be aware of where all safety equipment is located and where the safe briefing areas are. All hydrogen sulfide monitoring systems need to be operable and workers need to know how to use them. Also, all workers must be briefed on emergency response procedures and shutdown procedures. They should be prepared to do drilling fluid treating plans when they encounter this dangerous gas.
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