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 of 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.