The Dangers of Hydrogen Sulfide
When drilling in offshore rigs for oil and natural gas, workers face dozens of risks that threaten their safety and their lives. One of these dangers is exposure to hydrogen sulfide. This gas can be present in natural gas in amounts up to 90%, and small amounts are sometimes present in crude petroleum.
Hydrogen sulfide is a highly corrosive chemical compound. It produces a foul smell of rotten eggs, but in a short amount of time it can damage the olfactory senses in humans, leaving no smell at all to warn those exposed to it. In addition, the gas is colorless and heavier than air, making it gather dangerously in poorly ventilated places virtually undetected.
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 to the body can also include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Eye irritation
- Fluid in the lungs
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
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.
The gas is also highly flammable, posing a high risk of fire or explosion. In addition, it corrodes metal, weakening any mechanisms, structures, or equipment that is exposed to it. On an oil rig, where the platform's structures are all essential in maintaining safety, the gas can pose a threat to the entire rig.
Among the precautions taken to protect workers, drill sites are all provided with a material safety data sheet (MSDS), which lists health effects, first aid, and emergency procedures for each dangerous chemical on the job site. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) lists details on how to protect workers from dangerous exposure to the gas, including the use of a portable meter and respiratory equipment in hazardous areas.