Hydrogen sulfide (also known as H2S, sewer gas, swamp gas, stink damp, and sour damp) is a colorless gas known for its pungent "rotten egg" odor at low concentrations. It is extremely flammable and highly toxic.
Hydrogen sulfide is used or produced in a number of industries, such as
- Oil and gas refining
- Pulp and paper processing
- Rayon manufacturing
Hydrogen sulfide also occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water, oil and gas wells, and volcanoes. Because it is heavier than air, hydrogen sulfide can collect in low-lying and enclosed spaces, such as manholes, sewers, and underground telephone vaults. Its presence makes work in confined spaces potentially very dangerous.
The health effects of hydrogen sulfide depend on how much H2S a worker breathes and for how long. However, many effects are seen even at low concentrations. Effects range from mild, headaches or eye irritation, to very serious, unconsciousness and death.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small business employers may contact OSHA's free and confidential On-site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA's free consultation service, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
Why is hydrogen sulfide so deadly?
- It is highly flammable and toxic, even at low concentrations.
- It is heavier than air and may travel along the ground.
- It can build up in low-lying areas, and in confined spaces (including enclosed, poorly ventilated areas, such as manure pits, sewers, manholes, and underground vaults).
- After a while at low or more quickly at high concentrations, you can no longer smell it to warn you it's there.
- It can quickly, almost immediately, overcome unprepared workers, including rescue workers.
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