Few other industries carry such a high risk of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) exposure as the natural gas and oil sectors. Blakely Construction is keenly aware of the risks and safety surrounding hydrogen sulfide.
First, let’s cover what exactly hydrogen sulfide is. H2S is a naturally occurring gas that is formed by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic decomposition). Often it is recognized by its infamous “rotten eggs” odor. This gas is very corrosive and flammable! It is found in high concentrations in natural gas and petroleum and also occurs in volcanic gases, landfills, sewage treatment, and farms/manure storage facilities.
In high concentrations, this gas can be fatal almost immediately so knowing where the gas is found and the dangers of exposure can mean the difference between life and death. Because it is slightly more dense than our atmosphere, it will always tend to accumulate first in low lying and poorly ventilated areas. Confined spaces such as tunnels, manholes, and wells are especially ideal for H2S accumulations. Extreme caution and education must be applied in these settings.
While the gas does carry a “rotten eggs” smell, this is only detected at low concentrations. A person becomes unable to smell the gas at high concentrations due to a phenomenon called olfactory paralysis. Because of this, it is suggested to NOT rely on sense of smell when evaluating possible contamination.
Symptoms of low to moderate exposure include headaches, irritability, nausea, irritated mucous membranes (nose, throat, sinus), eye irritation, coughing. Higher concentrations will cause severe breathing difficulty, conjunctivitis, pulmonary edema, and even death. A human can be overcome almost immediately if exposed to high concentrations.
We are truly a family at Blakely Construction so this subject carries high importance! We want to protect each other and make sure we stay safe in the field! PLANNING and EDUCATION are the critical factors to staying safe. Anywhere H2S exposure is possible, be certain to test the air regularly using proper air-testing equipment, performed by a qualified person. Equipment such as detector tubes, explosion meters, and alarm-only gas monitors should also be installed in any area (especially in CONFINED areas) where H2S could be found. EVERY employee who could face exposure MUST go through complete and thorough OSHA training and remain current on updated safety standards.
Ventilation and exhaust systems will keep fresh air flowing through confined spaces but it is important that these systems meet the criteria for handling H2S as it is very corrosive and will damage equipment not designed for such work. Also, make sure there are established and available procedures for rescue and first aid in the scenario of a H2S contamination. Having PPE (personal protective equipment) and respiratory equipment available can save a life so make sure you have the proper protection for your workers.
Bottom line, we want you to be prepared and educated when it comes to hydrogen sulfide exposure. There are many resources available to research exposure dangers, equipment specifications and workplace safety measures.