The Hazards of Hydrogen Sulfide Exposure at the Workplace
Hydrogen sulfide is a widely used toxin that can cause serious and fatal injuries to workers in certain industries using the chemical. Employers have a responsibility to properly monitor exposure levels, and protect employees to the best of their ability. Should they fail and an exposure-related injury occur, a company can be held liable for not providing a safe work environment.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless but highly toxic gas. It has a distinctive rotten-egg odor, although high levels can be odorless. Hydrogen sulfide is used in several American industries such as mining, oil refining, and manufacturing. A primary use is in the production of sulfuric acid and elemental sulfur for fertilizers and pesticides. Manufacturers also use the toxin in leather, dyes and pharmaceuticals.
At high concentrations, contaminants may lead to serious complications and death. At lower levels, workplace exposure results in irritating and dangerous symptoms like eye infections, respiratory irritation, and nausea.
Hydrogen Sulfide Uses
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, employees working in specific industries are likely exposed to higher levels of hydrogen sulfide than the general American population. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns workers and employers to take precautionary measures when handling the toxin, and to properly ventilate work areas.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas, and exposure occurs primarily through inhalation. If the concentration is high enough it is very difficult to detect toxins by smell. To protect workers against the hazards of hydrogen sulfide, the OSHA has set a permissible legal limit for worker exposure. Employers who violate the exposure limits and place workers in danger can be held responsible in the court of law.
Common industries using hydrogen sulfide include the following:
- Pulp and paper mills
- Petroleum refining
- Natural gas drilling operations
- Sewage treatment plants
- Nuclear power plants
- Fertilizer and pesticide producers
- Iron smelters
- Food processing plants
- Textile manufacturing
- Construction sites
Workers that are employed in work areas with little ventilation can be at an increased risk for toxic exposure. Companies and management must ensure that workers in confined spaces have controlled levels of toxins.
Workers should be particularly cautious when performing tasks in pits, manholes, tunnels, or wells. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, putting workers in low-lying areas at additional risk.
Signs of Hydrogen Sulfide Poisoning
In small concentrations, hydrogen sulfide has a rotten-egg smell, but it is not always possible to detect, and injuries can occur when workers are unaware of the exposure risks present. At high levels, exposure may lead to permanent injuries and death. At low levels, signs and symptoms of hydrogen sulfide poisoning may include:
- Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- Confusion and dizziness
Complications of Chemical Exposure
High levels of exposure may damage the lungs, brain, nerves, heart or kidneys. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for hydrogen sulfide poisoning. Side effects and complications are generally treated symptomatically. In severe cases, individuals may require emergency medical treatment. High levels of exposure can lead to trouble breathing, shock, convulsions, permanent damage the brain and heart, coma or death.
If you have been exposed to toxins and suffered an injury, you may have a claim against a negligent employer. If management failed to properly ventilate a work area, warn workers of health hazards, provide protective equipment, or provide proper training, you may be able to recover compensation for damages that result from the unsafe workplace.
If you have been injured after acute or chronic chemical exposure, and have questions about the legal remedies available to improve quality of life and medical care in Ohio, contact The Lyon Firm at (800) 513-2403. You will speak directly with Mr. Lyon, and he will help you answer these critical questions.