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H2S Gas Exposure: What Every Oilfield Worker Should Know.

Oilfield Injury Lawyer | H2S Gas What Oilfield Workers Should Know

Oilfield workers are exposed to a multitude of hazards on the job.

However, one particularly insidious hazard – highly toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas – remains misunderstood and frequently underreported.

What is Hydrogen Sulfide Gas?

Also called sewer gas, swamp gas, stink damp, and sour gas, H2S gas is a colorless, highly toxic, and flammable gas naturally present in oil and gas reservoirs. Because it is heavier than air, H2S can collect in low-lying areas and enclosed spaces, making confined spaces particularly dangerous for oil and gas workers.

Low concentrations of H2S will produce a distinct, pungent “rotten egg” odor. However, higher concentrations can rob workers of their sense of smell almost instantaneously, leaving them completely unaware of the hazard surrounding them.

How Many Oilfield Fatalities Has H2S Gas Caused?

Although this silent killer poses a significant danger to every worker on the oilfield, data on H2S-related incidents aren’t reported or categorized consistently, making it difficult to track how many injuries and deaths result from exposure.

However, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there were 60 fatalities related to hydrogen sulfide poisoning in the oil and gas industry in the United States between 2012 and 2022. During that time period, H2S poisoning also ranked as the leading cause of death in the industry,  just behind transportation accidents and contact with objects and equipment.

Nationwide, hydrogen sulfide gas poisoning killed nine workers across all sectors in 2019 and five in 2020, including several in the oilfield industry. H2S gas was also implicated in four workplace fatalities in 2022, including the tragic deaths of an oilfield worker and his wife on the northwest side of Odessa, Texas.

In September 2022, an oilfield worker fatally inhaled H2S gas near a sump pit at a waste treatment and disposal facility operated by Production Waste Solutions near Orla, Texas.

What Are the Symptoms of H2S Exposure?

Oilfield workers exposed to toxic H2S can exhibit a range of symptoms, including:

  • Respiratory issues, including coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain
  • Irritation, burning in the eyes and nose, and the loss of sense of smell.
  • Headaches, dizziness, and confusion.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

In high concentrations, exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can cause loss of consciousness and even death. Long-term or chronic exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can have serious health effects, even at low levels. These include:

  • Neurological effects including memory loss, poor attention span, and reduced motor function.
  • Chronic respiratory problems, including bronchitis and asthma.
  • Eye and skin damage, leading to chronic irritation, redness, and rashes.
  • Chronic headaches, including debilitating migraines.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, including lung cancer.

How Can Oilfield Workers Be Protected?

OSHA has implemented a number of regulations to protect oil and gas workers from H2S exposure.

For one thing, workers cannot be exposed to more than 10 ppm of H2S over an 8-hour period. Oilfield employers are required to monitor H2S levels and take action if levels exceed this permissible exposure limit. They must also implement a hazard communication program to educate workers about the dangers of sour gas and the precautions they need to take to protect themselves.

OSHA also requires that companies provide oilfield workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including respirators, eye protection, and protective clothing, and provide training on its proper use. They must also develop and implement an emergency response plan and train employees on the plan as well as their roles in responding to an emergency.

These rules apply to any operation where oilfield workers could be exposed to H2S, including drilling rigs, well-servicing operations, and production facilities. Unfortunately, as the recent cases in Odessa and Orla, Texas, illustrate, oil and gas companies often fail to adhere to OSHA’s regulations, leaving unprotected workers and their families to pay the ultimate price.

Our Undefeated Oilfield Injury Lawyers are Here to Help. Call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here for a Free Consult.

Having won billions, including the #1 Largest Oilfield Accident Settlement for an individual in US History, our Undefeated Oilfield Accident Lawyers possess the resources and experience to ensure the victims of H2S exposure and their families receive the maximum compensation possible for all of their injuries and losses.

If you or a loved one were injured or tragically killed in an oilfield accident or explosion,  you must act quickly to protect your rights and your future. Please call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to submit a confidential email through our “Contact Us” form.

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