Hydrogen sulfide gas is present naturally in crude oil and natural gas, but it can also be a product of industrial activity, such as food processing, steel production, tanneries and paper production. Those who work in livestock farming and at sewage treatment plants also tend to be exposed to the gas, albeit at lower levels. It is often referred to as “sewer gas,” in part because of its odor, which is similar to rotten eggs at low levels, but also because it is sometimes produced when waste material breaks down.
At higher levels, hydrogen sulfide gas has a “sweet” odor, but the gas can also paralyze olfactory nerves, so the odor can sometimes go undetected, and should not be the sole determinant as to the presence of the gas. Because hydrogen sulfide is a very irritating and potentially toxic gas at high levels, it is essential that workers in areas where hydrogen sulfide is likely to be present, be trained to recognize the signs of the presence of hydrogen sulfide as well as the symptoms of exposure and the measures they can take to protect themselves.
Exposure to Hydrogen Sulfide
The most common method of exposure to hydrogen sulfide is through inhalation, although it is also possible to be exposed through skin and eye contact. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict regulations regarding hydrogen sulfide exposure levels, because even low concentrations can cause headache, dizziness and nausea – which can be a hazard, depending on where the worker is and what he or she is doing when exposed. Higher exposures can cause a worker to lose consciousness quickly, which can create serious risk. In some cases, exposure through inhalation can result in respiratory paralysis and asphyxiation, both of which can lead to death.
Worker exposure to hydrogen sulfide can be limited or prevented through regular inspection and maintenance of engineering and plumbing systems. In some circumstances, OSHA has approved two methods of respiratory protection from hydrogen sulfide gas, including a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and a supplied airline respirator. OSHA warns that such protection should only be used if engineering controls are ineffective.
OSHA notes that, while there have been a number of work accident fatalities caused by hydrogen sulfide, there is little risk if workers are properly trained and supplied with proper monitoring equipment, and there are detailed safety and health procedures with regard to confined spaces at the worksite.
However, some employers such as those in the oil and gas industry have been known to cut corners, which means they may not be providing those things for employees. If you work in an industry where hydrogen sulfide is a concern and you have been exposed, contact the San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Hill Law Firm. Our team of San Antonio lawyers are well situated to take on some of the largest companies in the world. For questions or a free consultation, call us at (210) 960-3939.