Summer is rapidly approaching in many parts of the world. Staying properly hydrated can go a long way in helping prevent Heat Stress and Heat Injuries. Becoming dehydrated in the workplace is generally associated with being outside in hot, humid environments; however, dehydration can actually happen year round in a variety of environments or conditions. It can be especially problematic for jobs that require wearing heavy PPE or are physically demanding in nature.
One of the biggest challenges with dehydration in the workplace is that a person might not even know there’s a problem until it becomes dire. Anyone can experience dehydration and there are a number of causes. Regardless of the working environment, failing to drink enough water is a sure way to get there.
Let’s take a look at dehydration in the workplace and identify some ways to mitigate it.
Symptoms and Signs of Dehydration?
We all know one of the best ways to identify if we ourselves are dehydrated. That’s right — urine color. The darker the color of urine, the more dehydrated the person. A properly hydrated individual will have urine that is pale yellow. When a person is slightly dehydrated the urine is bright yellow and a cup or two of water will usually do the trick. If a person is severely dehydrated their urine can be very dark yellow, maybe even orange in color. This person should drink at least a liter of water.
But most times in the workplace it's difficult to see everyone's urine color to really understand hydration levels. When keeping an eye on your team for safety you can look for these signs that someone is improperly hydrated.
- A person could have altered behavior, such as severe anxiety, confusion, or not being able to stay awake.
- They could also have a faintness that is not relieved by lying down, or light headedness that continues after standing for more than a couple of minutes.
- When severely dehydrated, the individual will have a weak, rapid pulse. Cold, clammy skin or hot, dry skin.
- And in the most extreme of circumstances they can lose consciousness.
Is Staying Hydrated at Work Important?
Regardless of the type of work you do, chances are you want to perform at your peak level. Even mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood. When a worker is improperly hydrated, it by definition means that they have less water in their body than they should. All those vital organs that allow us to live, need water to function properly. When your brain lacks water, there is an actual slowing of the firing of synapses. This makes things like remembering information, memory recall and being attentive that much more difficult. These of course are some of the most basic building blocks of performing in the workplace. So make sure to consider having an extra cup (or two) of water when weighing the benefits of hydration while on site or in the office.
How to Prevent Dehydration in the Workplace
When looking for opportunities in the workplace to help prevent dehydration, break the approach up into 3 different levels: The Worker, The Environment and The Leadership.
For yourself, you are the first line of defense to keep yourself hydrated. You don’t just know your job better than anyone else, you know your body. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks or liquids containing large amounts of sugar. Plan ahead by drinking water before heading into hot or exerting conditions. For your fellow co-workers, be especially mindful of things such as altered behavior or cold, clammy skin or hot, dry skin. You can also keep an eye out for how often coworkers use the restroom. If they're not going often enough, that’s not good!
Any new job site (or even old!) should have a proper escalation plan in case of emergency. Outfit a work site with properly outfitted safety equipment and make sure they understand who to call for medical help. To help mitigate dehydration, make sure workers know where water is located and how much they should drink during the day. Make sure to have regularly scheduled safety meetings to remind workers how to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Leadership should be properly backing, training and resourcing the work site for safety. This includes the sometimes overlooked simple things — like keeping the workforce hydrated.
Prepare workers for a hot environment by taking the necessary steps both for their physical and mental well-being. Physically prepare workers by providing a proper plan for acclimatization. Prepare the worker mentally by providing adequate training and awareness of dehydration risks and mitigation techniques. Help train workers and supervisors to look for the signals of dehydration.
Hydration tips around the Worksite
Avoid using thirst as indicator:
- When a worker begins to feel thirty, they’ve already lost around 2-4 % of their hydration level.
- Workers should drink cool water, 5 to 7 ounces, every 15 to 20 minutes. In total, aim to drink between 8 and 10 glasses of water each day. Though pure water is the best choice, augmenting with a sports drink is also a good rehydration choice.
Avoid speciality drinks:
- Drinks that contain high amounts of caffeine such as coffee or soda increase urine output and make you dehydrate fasters. Alcoholic beverages not only increase dehydration but for a number of reasons should not be consumed right before, during or after work.
Listen to your body:
- Stop hot work immediately if you feel signs of dizziness, lightheadedness or fatigue.
- Drink before, during and after physical labor to replace body fluid lost through perspiration.
- Try to anticipate conditions that will increase the need for water, including high temperature, humidity, wearing of protective clothing and difficulty of work. If able, replace sweat-saturated clothing with dry clothing as soon as possible. Sweat-saturated clothing hampers your body's cooling ability by making sweat evaporation more difficult.
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