Hydrogen sulfide is a gas byproduct that can be very dangerous, even deadly, to humans. Called by many names such as rotten egg gas, stink damp and sour crude, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is found in areas where organic materials decompose with little or no oxygen.
Certain commercial industries are prone to exposure to H2S and must be careful to protect workers from the hazardous effects. Here is what employers should know about H2S and the importance of workplace hydrogen sulfide safety for their employees.
What Is Hydrogen Sulfide?
Hydrogen sulfide is a gas produced from the breakdown of organic material, composed of two hydrogen atoms and 1 sulfide atom. It is heavier than air, settling lower and often in underground or confined spaces. This gas is colorless, but in lower concentrations is known for its rotten egg odor. However, the gas can impact the respiratory system quickly and disable smell, so the odor is not considered a reliable indication of H2S.
Hydrogen sulfide is common in a few industries where there are organic compounds that may decompose without oxygen. These industries include:
* Oil and gas well
* Gas plants
* Sewer and septic work
* Pulp mills
* Agriculture silos and pits
* Asphalt paving
* Food processing
H2S can be found in nature but it is enclosed places like an industrial plant or septic tank where concentrations are the highest and most deadly. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause almost immediate illness at lower concentrations, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of smell, coughing, eye/throat irritation and vomiting. At higher concentrations, workers can collapse, sustain permanent eye damage or even immediate death. Also, H2S is extremely flammable and can auto-ignite at extremely high temperatures, creating fire and explosion hazards.
Hydrogen Sulfide Workplace Safety Protocols
Workplaces with possible risks for H2S need to adhere to safety protocols to protect workers from accidental exposure to hydrogen sulfide. Detection, ventilation and personal protection equipment (PPE) are the three main ways to protect workers against exposure and prevent possible explosions or fires.
In industries at higher risk for hydrogen sulfide exposure, detection is key. These can be stationary detection devices that can set an alarm if even low levels of H2S are detected. There are also small detectors that workers can use when entering areas that may potentially contain H2S, like NIOSH-certified detector tubes, badges or strips, that can alert workers to dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide.
Personal protection gear should be available for employees who may be exposed to hydrogen sulfide. The primary concern is breathing in the gas – skin exposure and absorption are lower risk, but employees should wear protective clothing and eye protection. Access to a personal respirator is needed for employees entering areas potentially containing H2S. Workplaces at risk for hydrogen sulfide contamination should have self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA), positive-pressure, supplied air respirator (SABA) and emergency or escape-only respirators available, and workers should be trained on using these devices.
All supervisors and workers in impacted industries need to be trained on the dangers of hydrogen sulfide, detection and protection. This is a very dangerous gas that can be deadly in minutes with direct exposure, as well as potentially create explosion or fire hazards for entire facilities.
Keeping your workers safe should be a top priority – it is the best way to run a successful, profitable business. At SafetyPro Resources LLC, we make it simpler to stay on top of safety regulations to maintain a safe workplace. We offer training, safety management, audits and various safety programs to keep your employees safe and your business running smoothly. Contact us at our headquarters in Baton Rouge, LA to discuss improving your workplace safety program.