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Preventing fatal hydrogen sulfide exposure

Workers in Texas oil fields are at a serious risk of being exposed to unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide, also referred to as H2S. Exposure to this hazardous gas on the job resulted in the deaths of 64 workers between 2003 and 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although 10 percent of H2S is created through industrial processes, the vast majority of it occurs naturally in crude petroleum and stagnant water. To prevent fatal exposure to H2S, it is imperative for employers to identify potential sources of the gas on the job site and determine the concentration levels. Employees who are working in the at-risk areas can then use the appropriate respirators to prevent exposure.

The recommended exposure limit for H2S is 10 ppm. This means that if the air is contaminated by H2S over 10 ppm, a respirator is required to prevent headaches, nausea, dizziness, throat irritation and other symptoms. A worker who is exposed to an area with over 700 ppm H2S without a respirator could collapse after taking just a couple breaths. Continued exposure at this level could result in death. Unprotected exposure to over 1,000 ppm H2S can result in instant death, and 45,000 ppm H2S can cause an explosion.

Industrial workers' accidents that are caused by exposure to hydrogen sulfide are usually covered by workers' compensation insurance. A worker who has been injured by H2S exposure might want to speak with an attorney about filing a workers' compensation claim. An attorney may also be able to help the worker to determine whether there were any negligent third parties who could also be held liable for their injuries.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "Respiratory Protection in Extreme H2S Environments", Eric Dzuba, Feb. 1, 2015

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