The world is full of harmful chemicals, and unfortunately many of them can be found in the industries that drive the global economy. While there is a perpetual spotlight on the dumping of these chemicals in streams, rivers, and the oceans, or when a business fails to notify its employees of a potentially harmful substance in the workplace, few people realize how many workplaces put humans into close contact with potentially lethal substances on a daily basis. Luckily, with the proper training and safety measures in place, these potentially dangerous situations rarely get out of hand. H2S Alive training is a perfect example of the type of mandatory training course that helps keep workers safe, even when working in the petroleum industry, which is rightly considered an inherently dangerous industry. Not all dangers can be avoided with, even with the best efforts by a company to do so, and that is why every employee being knowledgeable, aware, and able to deal with any situation that may arise is vitally important.
What is H2S?
H2S Alive training gets its name from the substance that it is designed to educate about: hydrogen sulfide gas (known commonly by its chemical formula of H2S). Hydrogen sulfide gas is interesting in that it is a necessary part of the human body, and is produced and used in trace quantities for a variety of things on a physiological level. Despite this usefulness in extremely low quantities, breathing in H2S can quickly turn this innocuous gas, with its trademark “rotten egg” smell, into a lethal poison. At high concentrations the gas is considered a “broad-spectrum” poison, which means that it has a number of negative effects on the human body, but one of the strongest is on the nervous system. On a cellular level, the gas can inhibit cellular respiration, and has a similar toxicity level to cyanide or carbon monoxide.
A potentially lethal dose is considered between 300-500 parts per million on most scales, but that can vary greatly depending on the specific individual inhaling it; a variety of physiological characteristics can affect the actual “lethal” concentration of the gas from person to person. At below lethal levels, prolonged and regular inhalation can have a variety of negative effects, including: nausea, eye irritation, sore throat, and others. More advanced symptoms of prolonged exposure can be chronic headaches, loss of appetite, and even adverse effects on memory.
H2S and the Petroleum Industry
The reason that H2S gas is such a major concern in the petroleum industry, and why the Canadian petroleum industry requires all employees to complete H2S Alive training, is because of where hydrogen sulfide gas can be found in nature. The two primary sources are places where organic matter is broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen (such as swamps), and in volcanic gases; the latter causes underground natural gas and petroleum deposits to become injected with H2S gas. Prior to the refining process, many deposits are composed of what is known as “sour” gas or crude (petroleum), which is a term for natural gas or crude oil that has not had the sulfur separated from it.
Because the hydrogen sulfide gas must be separated, there is ample time during the extraction and refining processes for contact with H2S. Companies take every effort to ensure that H2S is not a danger on the job, but the history of the industry across the world shows that accidents happen, and the results can be lethal. One of the most notorious tragedies occurred in Texas in the mid-70s. A drilling operation released a large deposit of H2S gas, which ended up taking the lives of nine workers. While tragedies such as this are not commonplace (thankfully), it illustrates the need for regular, and thorough training on the dangers of working around such a toxic compound.
What is H2S Alive?
In the Canadian petroleum industry, safety has been the impetus for requiring all industry workers to undergo a training course on hydrogen sulfide gas called “H2S Alive.” The training covers a range of topics concerning H2S. The main areas of training are: H2S gas and its basic properties; detecting H2S gas; respiratory safety equipment and its usage in case of emergency; emergency response, including rescue carries and C.P.R; and the general guidelines for recognizing, responding, and resolving H2S related incidents.
There are numerous organizations throughout Canada that offer H2S Alive courses, and it is important that individuals make sure any course they complete covers the proper breadth and depth of material to offer certification. While each course may be slightly different in content and structure, certified courses typically last for about 8 hours. Once a certified course has been completed, the certification provided is currently valid for up to three years; after three years another H2S Alive training course will have to be completed.
Training Saves Lives
Eight hours can seem like a lot of time to devote to something that will most likely (and hopefully never) be called into use; however, the unfortunate truth is that training courses like H2S Alive save lives. Hydrogen sulfide is lethal enough that it was used by the British in World War I as a chemical weapon, and with substances like that there is no margin for error. Not knowing that hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air for example, could be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation. No one should have to rely on the knowledge of others in the case of a serious accident involving hydrogen sulfide; for anyone working in the petroleum industry that is nearing the expiration date for their training, don’t put it off – find an H2S Alive training course today.