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A new report from the Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia highlights the dangers of working in the oil and gas industry. In 2012, 138 workers died while on the job – an increase of 23 percent from the previous year, and a level U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez called "unacceptable."
The majority of these deaths are due to oil and gas workers being hit by equipment or vehicles, getting caught in equipment or falling from an elevated level, according to the report. However, another major danger workers in this industry face is exposure to toxic gases.
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a common gas found on oil and gas work sites. It can be found at oil and natural gas well sites, at petroleum refineries and in pipelines used to carry crude oil and natural gas, where H2S is naturally occurring. However, it but must be removed from these sources along with other contaminants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen, a report from the University of California, Berkeley stated. As much as 30 percent of natural gas in the world may contain hydrogen sulfide, which is called "sour gas."
Currently, natural gas containing H2S in the United States has been found in the Rockies, the Mid Continent, the Permian Basin and in the Michigan and Illinois Basins. Yet, as natural gas development continues to expand throughout the country, more sour gas is likely to be discovered, the UC Berkeley report stated.
Dangers of H2S
According to Work Safe BC, employees in the industry are exposed to this potentially deadly gas every year. Hydrogen sulfide has no color and smells like rotten eggs. However, when large amounts are released, the gas can block the sense of smell. It will also irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, cause nausea, disorientation and headaches, and in more extreme cases, can affect the breathing center in the brain, leading to death.
"With high levels of H2S, poisoning can be swift and deadly – with little warning," a Work Safe BC report said. "…The body may tremble, and death may follow in seconds or minutes as a result of breathing failure."
Hydrogen sulfide also explodes easily, making it extremely dangerous on oil and gas drilling sites. It can also burn off another dangerous gas: Sulphur dioxide.
With approximately 2,072 employers in the industry, as of last year, oil and gas companies must ensure they are taking the appropriate safety measures, like installing a toxic gas detector, on job sites to protect workers.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.