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The Danger of Hydrogen Sulfide Prompts The Need For H2S Training

Working in close proximity to hazardous chemicals is a fact of life for many people, and no matter what the circumstance it is always important for individuals to be educated about the potential risks those materials present. It’s a common misconception that the only employments that present regular or real danger are those that involve direct contact with hazardous material, as even brief, irregular, or incidental contact with some chemicals can prove lethal. Because of the potential risks involved with even the most indirect contact, thorough and regular training is important. In the Canadian petroleum industry, H2S Alive is a safety course that is mandatory for all workers that may come into contact with the particularly dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas. Throughout the history of the global petroleum trade, enough incidents have been recorded involving hydrogen sulfide that the safety course is required for all petroleum workers at risk for contact, no matter how fleeting it may be

The Dangers of Hydrogen Sulfide


Hydrogen sulfide gas, also known by its chemical compound formula “H2S,” is a fairly common substance that occurs regularly in nature, as well as in the human body in small quantities. In nature H2S can be found in sewers and swamps, where it is produced as a result of anaerobic digestion (the breakdown of organic matter by bacteria in the absence of oxygen), as well as in volcanic gases. Because of its presence in volcanic gas, H2S can often be found in trace amounts in underground aquifers, natural gas deposits, and in crude petroleum. In the human body the origins of the gas are far more complex, but the basic fact is that in small amounts it serves a few important roles, one of which is helping with memory retention in the brain.
Unfortunately the fact that H2S occurs naturally in the body can lead some people to underestimate how dangerous the gas can be in just about every other circumstance. The amounts found in the body are extremely small, and when respired in larger quantities H2S is a broad-spectrum poison; it has numerous adverse effects on multiple parts of the body. Its toxicity can be accurately compared to that of carbon monoxide or cyanide. One of the most lethal side-effects of H2S respiration is at the cellular level, where it forms a complex bond with iron and inhibits cellular respiration. There is no “magic” number representing a lethal dose, as everyone’s physiological characteristics will react to the gas differently, but the average threshold level is thought to be between 300-500 parts per million.

In small enough quantities the human body produces an enzyme that is capable of neutralizing H2S gas, but between that miniscule dosage and the 300-500 ppm window mentioned above the gas has other negative effects. Respiration at these lower levels can cause eye irritation, sore throat, nausea, and even the numbness of a person’s sense of smell (this particular side-effect can make detection of the gas through scent difficult after prolonged exposure). When non-lethal dosages have been respired regularly over a long period of time, the effects can include lapses in memory, loss of appetite, dizziness, and chronic headaches.

H2S and the Petroleum Industry

As previously mentioned, hydrogen sulfide gas is commonly found in natural gas and crude oil deposits, due to H2s aliveits presence in volcanic gases. Its presence in both of these potential fuel sources makes it a regular fixture in the lives of all petroleum industry workers, and even more so because the gas is one of the chemicals that must be separated from the fuels during the refining process. Both natural gas and crude petroleum containing H2S are referred to as “sour” (sour gas and sour crude respectively), and there are regulations from region to region governing the amount of sulfide that can be contained in them before they can be refined for use as fuel.

Aside from the health risks it poses to workers from accidental respiration, hydrogen sulfide is also extremely flammable. Given the high levels of volatility of the other materials worked with in the industry (i.e. crude oil and natural gas), a highly flammable gas represents an added danger as well.

H2S Alive Training

Because of the multiple risks that hydrogen sulfide gas represent to workers of the petroleum industry, the required training course H2S Alive covers everything from understanding the basic properties of hydrogen sulfide gas, to responding and ultimately resolving any potential situations that could develop from an accident or other potentially dangerous incident. In the Canadian petroleum industry the course is not only required, but it is only valid for up to three years before individuals must take the course again.
There are numerous organizations out there offering H2S Alive training courses, and as long as they offer industry certified training than it is simply a matter of personal preference in locating the organization that offers a program suiting an individual’s needs. Despite the minor differences in structure and content, every H2S Alive course should cover these fundamentals:

  • Basic Understanding & Detection of H2S Gas
  • Locating & Using the Proper Respiratory Safety Equipment
  • Rescue Best Practices (including carries, C.P.R, etc.)
  • Practical Application of Skills & Relevant Case Studies

The time it takes to cover the above material and all of their constituent parts varies slightly from organization to organization, but in general it should take about 8 hours to complete. Courses should include a combination of book work, examinations, as well as physical practice of relevant rescue techniques and use of safety equipment. For anyone looking to find and complete an H2S Alive course for their employment, a simple internet search should return a variety of certified organizations in their area.

H2S Alive Training In Canada

There are many hazardous employments out there, and one that has to be near the top of the list is the Canadian petroleum industry. The danger does not stem from mismanagement, unsafe business practices, or other nefarious sources, but simply from the inherently dangerous work involved with extracting, transporting, and processing a highly volatile substance. Petroleum has been a vital part of driving the economic engine of the last few centuries (pun intended), and over the years the dangers of the industry as well as effective ways to mitigate them are constantly being updated. H2S Alive courses represent a perfect example of this ever-evolving effort to ensure employee safety, and teach workers in the industry about how to identify, respond, and ultimately resolve incidents involving hydrogen sulfide gas.

What is Hydrogen Sulfide?

Hydrogen Sulfide, known also by its chemical compound formula “H2S,” is a gas that is created through a variety H2S Alive in Canadaof processes. One of the most common in nature is through the breakdown of organic matter by bacteria when oxygen is not present, which occurs in swamps and sewers. In addition to formation through anaerobic digestion (the bacterial breakdown previously mentioned), H2S is also one of many compounds present in volcanic gases. Because of its presence in volcanic gases, it is common to find hydrogen sulfide gas as a component of natural gas, in crude petroleum, as well as some sources of well water.

H2S is actually found in the human body in small quantities also, which can lead some people to believe that it is harmless; nothing could be farther from the truth. While it is true that the human body naturally produces certain enzymes that can neutralize small amounts of the gas (a process that can be carried out indefinitely), the gas is lethal enough in high concentrations that it was used to a limited degree as a chemical weapon by the British in World War I. The gas is classified as “broad-spectrum poison,” which means that it can have harmful effects on multiple parts of the body; however, the most lethal effects are often to the nervous system. Similar in toxicity level to cyanide and carbon monoxide, H2S inhibits cellular respiration.

In less than lethal doses (but those still high enough to overwhelm the neutralizing enzyme naturally produced by the body) H2S can cause a wide-range of uncomfortable symptoms, including: sore throat and cough, eye irritation, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. Prolonged and regular exposure to H2S at these lower levels can cause more advanced symptoms, such as: loss of appetite, chronic headaches, lapses in memory, and dizziness.

H2S and the Petroleum Industry

As previously mentioned,  hydrogen sulfide is a naturally occurring gas that is found in high concentrations in natural gas used for fuel, and in smaller concentrations in crude petroleum. H2S is one of the compounds that it is separated out during the refining process of both fuels. Natural gas that has not had the hydrogen sulfide removed is known as “sour gas,” and there are regulations governing the acceptable amount of H2S (or “sourness”) that is legally allowable.  Once it has been separated, H2A gas presents a legitimate health risk for those working around it, as inhalation in sufficient quantities can prove lethal.

Similar terminology exists when it comes to crude petroleum, which is known as “sour crude” when the sulfur content is too high; high concentrations of H2S gas is one of the main reasons for elevated sulfur levels. In the case of crude, H2S gas must be removed before the crude petroleum can be refined into petrol.

The Importance of H2S Alive Training

Unfortunately there are numerous incidents throughout the long history of the global petroleum industry to illustrate the need for comprehensive and mandatory training courses on the dangers and safety procedures for dealing with H2S gas in the workplace. One of the most well-known incidents occurred in the U.S. in 1975, when H2S gas released during a routine drilling operation in Texas ended with nine workers losing their lives. While the technologies for dealing with and general knowledge about H2S are much greater today, it is still vitally important that all individuals who may come into contact with H2S be properly trained in detecting and dealing with potentially hazardous situations. In the Canadian petroleum industry, the safety course H2S Alive is a prerequisite for all employees that may come into contact with the gas. There are numerous of organizations that offer certified H2S training, but no matter which organization a class is taken through it should cover the same fundamentals:

  • H2S Basics: What H2S is, and where it may be found on the job.
  • Protective Equipment: What safety equipment to use in case of an accident, and how to effectively use the equipment (as well as where it is located on the job site).
  • Detection: How to detect H2S gas.
  • Rescue Techniques: The steps to take in case a coworker inhales H2S, including removing them from a contaminated are, as well as rescue breathing.

To adequately cover all of these topics and their components in-depth, a full H2s training should take about 8 hours. In addition to simply learning about the facts, figures, and best practices, students in H2S Alive training should also receive practical and hands-on training in the rescue techniques and effective operation of safety equipment. Successful completion of a certified H2S Alive course will earn the individual an official certification, which in the case of the Canadian petroleum industry is valid for three years. Maintaining up-to-date certification is important not only because it’s the law, but because there is no telling when an emergency will happen, and being unprepared may cost more than a job.