Shipyard workers face many of the most hazardous work conditions every single day. From slips and falls to heavy equipment, most of these dangers are easy to see. However, one potentially deadly hazard can be hard to detect until it is too late: hydrogen sulfide gas.
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) exposure usually occurs while working on a ship's sewage systems. The colorless gas, which is described as smelling like "rotten eggs," can render someone unconscious in a matter of seconds or even kill them.
Why is hydrogen sulfide dangerous?
According to OSHA, hydrogen sulfide puts workers at risk in a variety of industries because:
- It is both highly flammable and toxic
- It is heavier than air and can build up in confined spaces
- It can almost immediately overwhelm workers without safety gear
- Despite its distinct smell, the odor is not always a reliable method of detecting H2S
Although H2S is said to smell terrible, the gas also quickly disables someone's sense of smell. This can easily lead to a false sense of security.
The effects of the gas depend on the concentration in the air someone breathes. A worker might experience eye irritation and headaches at a low density, and high levels are often deadly.
How can workers and supervisors limit exposure?
Since hydrogen sulfide naturally occurs in sewers, anyone assigned to work on a ship's sewage system should ensure it has been adequately flushed and chlorinated. Supervisors and management must ensure the system is isolated and the check valves and other safety measures are in working order.
Protecting shipyard workers from dangerous conditions
Employers in shipyards have a responsibility to provide safety mechanisms and training to prevent workplace injury. If you experience negative health effects at work, a consultation with The Law Offices of John W. Merting, P.A. is a good place to start.