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Understanding H2S Safety: How to Safeguard Your Employees with H2S Training

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), often called “the silent killer” is a colorless gas that can only be smelled at low concentrations. When the concentration is high enough, it deadens your sense of smell so you don’t even know it’s there.

One October evening in 2019, a worker was notified of a pump malfunction at a waterflood station in his jurisdiction. When he arrived at the station, there was no warning light signaling any danger of the presence of hydrogen sulfide (H2S).  Despite safety protocols, he left his personal H2S monitor inside his truck.

Once inside the station, the pumper found a warning on the monitor that there was an issue with Pump #1. He went into the pumphouse to address the malfunction and was overcome within minutes by H2S — the silent killer.

Several hours later, the pumper’s spouse came to the station to search for him. She entered the building, leaving their two small children in the car. She found him near Pump #1 – and was also overcome by the toxic gas and died at the scene.

What is H2S gas?

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), often called “the silent killer” is a colorless gas that can only be smelled at low concentrations. When the concentration is high enough, it deadens your sense of smell so you don’t even know it’s there.

A common by-product of many industrial processes, including oil and gas production and processing facilities, the gas is absorbed into the lungs rapidly, causing extreme reactions and even death in just a few breaths.

4 Common Myths of H2S Training

Training is critical to ensure worker safety. Yet misinformation is rampant. Mitigate your risk by gaining a thorough understanding of H2S training best practices.

Myth # 1: Workers can be trained with entirely computer-based H2S training 

TRUTH: Yes, is it allowed. No, it is not recommended. There are no OSHA training standards around H2S, but ANSI/ASSP Z390.1-2017 Accepted Practices for Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) training programs best practices require in-person training, led by a qualified instructor who has completed a formal Train-the-Trainer course.

Myth #2: H2S training certification is valid indefinitely

TRUTH: According to the ANSI/ASSP standard, certification is renewed annually. Abbreviated refresher training is no longer a valid course option. Training must be 3-4 hours long, according to the ANSI/ASSP standard.

Myth #3: On-Site Visitors Do Not Require Site-Specific Training

TRUTH: Visitors on any sites where H2S may be present must receive full instructor-led training. Areas of potential H2S exposure are not limited to cellars, confined spaces, pits, sewers, and vacuum trucks.

Myth #4: Course completion credentials are not required when working on jobsites

TRUTH: Valid training certification must be provided when reporting to a jobsite.

Shared Responsibility, Defined Roles of H2S Training

When it comes to H2S safety, everyone has to do their part. The primary focus has to be on protecting the health and safety of the workers, but this is a shared responsibility between the employers and the employees. To date, there’s no formal OSHA standard that governs H2S safety, however, companies should look to 29 CFR 1910.134, OSHA’s Respiratory Standard, and 29 CFR 1900.1000 Table Z-1. The ANSI Z390 offers best practices for all employers and their workers.

Employers need to: 
  1. Evaluate the job site for respiratory hazards. Where there is a potential for H2S to be on a job site, employers must take precautions to warn workers, and train them on how to keep safe.
  2. Establish a formal, written compliance program. Read OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard. If you have workers going into areas with an occupational exposure limit (OEL) of 10 parts per million(ppm) or greater, be sure you understand the risks and the controls. . Create or use a training  program in compliance with ANSI Z390 and implement it.
  3. Provide annual refresher training. Require employees to complete an H2S training program before they begin work at your facility. After the initial program, schedule an annual refresher training for the whole team.
  4. Take care of any site-specific issues. Every site carries different H2S risks. Consider the specific exposure risks at each, and determine what other steps are needed. Others could include:
    • Creating contingency plans, like an emergency action plan for each location
    • Providing self-contained breathing apparatuses
    • Providing H2S gas detectors recusation equipment.
  1. Consider other necessary training. As an employer, you may be responsible for other protective measures, including First Aid/CPR training, lock out/tag out training, confined space entry training and respiratory protection training. These are also critical to worker safety when working with H2S gas as well.
Workers need to: 
  1. Attend all training opportunities.
  2. Follow a hierarchy of controls and safe work practices when on the job site.
  3. Use the required respiratory protection and personal gas monitors.
  4. Report any exposure incidences.
  5. Utilize your stop work authority (SWA) if something doesn’t feel right or look right – or if you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do.

For more information, watch the video above on H2S training myths. 

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