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A Guide to H2S Exposure in the Oil and Gas Industry

Working in the oil and gas industry means you're at risk of exposure to deadly gases. These can be anything from petroleum vapours to flammable gases.

One of the most dangerous gases is hydrogen sulfide, commonly found in oilfields. Also known as the "sour gas", since it has a distinct scent similar to rotten eggs; however, higher concentrations are often odourless and difficult to detect by smell alone.

Here's your guide to H2S exposure in the oil and gas industry and how to improve workplace safety.

What Is H2S Exposure?

H2S exposure refers to any kind of contact with hydrogen sulfide gas. In most cases, this involves breathing in the vapour or exposing your eyes and throat to it. However, the primary concern is when the gas is directly inhaled.

The OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 20 ppm for H2S. What this means is that this level should not be surpassed in a normal 8-hour shift.

Alternatively, a worker can be briefly exposed to up to 50 ppm of H2S under the assumption that they will face no further exposure for the next 8-hour time period.

Why Is It Dangerous?

Chemical exposure is dangerous to oil industry workers for a number of reasons.

First of all, H2S exposure can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory system. This irritation should be your first sign that something is wrong.

Long-term H2S exposure can lead to more severe conditions, including sleep apnea, migraines, vertigo, and, worst case, coma. Long-term H2S exposure may be associated with even unrelated symptoms, including stomach discomfort and insomnia. Everything depends on how frequently, for how long, and on what kind of work is being done.

In addition, hydrogen sulfide is a flammable gas. A high enough concentration is prone to explosive results.

How to Prevent It

There are some methods for reducing H2S exposure at work. These include monitoring for gas, using safety gear, and training employees on how to stay safe.

In particular, optical gas imaging (OGI) uses thermal IR cameras to see gas that would normally evade the human eye. When used, OGI can detect H2S much earlier than anyone who smells it. It is important to utilize it to prevent H2S exposure.

Employees should also make use of personal monitors to detect H2S in their surroundings. It is important to wear respiratory protection to avoid inhaling excess amounts. SCBAs provide the best protection.

Finally, employees should know what to do if they encounter pockets of H2S. This may involve moving upwind and away from the hazard as well as notifying other workers.

Safety in the Oil and Gas Industry

Anyone working in the oil and gas industries should consider the risks of airborne chemical exposure. Even the smallest bit of inhalation can result in irreparable damage. It's always best to stay cautious and aware of your surroundings.

Priority Safety Services & Rentals provides emergency medical services in the Grand Prairie area, as well as optical gas imaging and detection. Contact us to learn more.


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