Hydration / Dehydration Safety Talk
Construction workers are the athletes of the work world. Just like athletes in sports, people working in the trades have a higher hydration requirement compared to someone working in the office setting. Dehydration in any setting negatively affects performance and can lead to injury. Here we will explore what proper hydration is and how to prevent dehydration on the worksite.
What Is Dehydration?
We will start with the assumption that we are all healthy and have no underlying health issues increasing our hydration needs. Given this condition, dehydration happens when you lose more body fluids than you take in, essentially placing your body in a fluid deficit. In fact, studies have shown that just a slight decrease in bodily fluid levels, as little as 2%, can result in mental complications with short term memory. Common signs and symptoms include:
Dizziness or lightheaded
Poor skin turgor
Elevated body temperature
What Causes Dehydration?
Normal body temperature when healthy is 98.6 degrees F or 37 degrees C. When your environment, activity level, illness, or a combination of these factors increase your body temperature you will notice an increase in:
These are all signs your body is working harder to keep cool and prevent your temperature from getting too high. Unfortunately, when these signs occur, dehydration has already begun. Meaning, your body is in a fluid or water deficit and needs to be replenished.
Sweat and construction go hand in hand since most of the work is done without the benefit of air conditioning. Consequently, workers in the skilled trades deal with dehydration primarily during the summer months. Increased heat causes the body to lose water through sweat and an increased respiratory rate. This workload is on top of your body’s water needs for the labors of your job.
How to Test for Dehydration
If you are seeing more than one of the symptoms above you can do a simple skin turgor test for additional confirmation.
Gently pinch a section of skin on a forearm with 2 fingers.
Let go and observe how long it takes the skin fold to return to normal.
Properly hydrated skin should return to normal in under 3 seconds.
Depending on the degree of dehydration, rehydration can be as simple as increasing water intake for mild cases or be so severe that intravenous fluids are needed in the emergency room.
Can Dehydration Happen in the Colder Months?
Dehydration can be more severe in cooler weather because the common symptoms and responses are diminished. In winter or cold weather, your body’s thirst response is decreased by up to 40%. Couple this with your body’s effort to maintain a normal 98.6 degrees and your water requirement is now increased above normal. Your body is tricked into thinking it is properly hydrated and you are less likely to drink voluntarily.
Can I Be Dehydrated Without Sweating?
Here is an example common to cold construction sites. Workers bundle up against the cold. The added weight of the clothing adds to the effort needed to work. Some studies suggest a workload increase of up to 40%.
The increased workload will increase your respiratory rate which also requires more fluids. The air you breathe requires moisture and the colder the air gets the less moisture it has. So your fluid requirements on a cold job site can be similar to what you need on a warm job site even though you don’t sweat as much.
Cold Air Can Fool Your Body
With cooler air being dryer than warm air, it actually works against us in another way. Sweat evaporates faster in cold air. This is great for helping to maintain our body temperature but it also compounds our body’s water loss. Since most of us associate thirst with heat, we neglect to drink as much water as we should.
What Conditions Can Increase My Risk of Dehydration?
There are other factors that can increase your risk of dehydration on the job. Conditions such as:
Elevation above sea level
As we age, our body’s ability to sweat decreases. You often hear older people remark that they can’t handle hot weather. Some chronic health conditions and medications further compromise our body’s ability to stay cool or increase our daily fluid requirements.
How Do I Prevent Dehydration?
Make hydration a priority. Educating team members about common hydration best practices and common symptoms is key. Many times there are symptoms of dehydration that can be seen before the effects are felt. Teach workers to look for signs like:
Less frequent urination
Daytime fatigue without reason
Likewise, encourage and reward proper hydration practices such as drinking 50 to 64 oz of water per day over regular breaks or intervals. Water bottles commonly come in 16 oz sizes so individuals can make a goal of drinking at least 4 bottles per day, thirsty or not. It is likely that during the warmer months and when higher activity levels are needed for work, this goal will need to be increased.
1. Drink Water
Limit beverages with caffeine and sugar. Caffeine is a natural diuretic and steals water from the body as well as tricks the body into feeling energized. It can compound and hide symptoms from workers and could push them into a severe case of dehydration.
Sugar increases your body’s water requirements. True, in combination with electrolytes, sugar or dextrose can be a part of maintaining hydration with drinks like Powerade or Gatorade. But even these drinks need to supplement a steady intake of water.
2. Keep Scheduled Hydration Breaks
Take regular, frequent hydration breaks. Maintain these scheduled hydration breaks in the cold months as well as the warm months. It is tempting to skip breaks and hustle through work in cold weather. Stay alert to dehydration signs when you are bundled up against the cold and continue to drink before you get thirsty.
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