How Chronic Dehydration Can Impact Worker Health and Wellness
Dehydration is a serious workplace safety issue, and combating it requires planning and awareness.
It's supposed to be common knowledge: dehydration is bad, drink fluids to avoid it. But that doesn't mean everyone knows exactly how to hydrate properly and how often to do it.
Dehydration happens for a few different reasons:
- I’m not thirsty. Waiting until you're thirsty to pause for a drink is better than nothing, but the healthier practice is to avoid reaching the point of thirst, because that means you're already partially dehydrated.
- I’m busy. Others get caught up in their work and simply forget to take a drink. The best remedy for this is to ensure a bottle of water is close at hand, or even to set a reminder on your phone.
- I’ll have coffee or a soft drink. Many people simply drink the wrong things. Coffee and colas contain caffeine, which is a diuretic. Although they do provide some hydration, they also promote increased fluid loss through urination. Sugary soft drinks make your body work harder to process all that extra sugar, which further dries it out.
- I prefer a cold beer. Alcohol is a major cause of dehydration. Although alcohol is clearly a banned substance on a worksite, it is often seen as the reward for hard work performed at home, such as yard work or home construction and during leisure activities like playing sports. Dehydration does not discriminate between work and leisure time. Part of the reason people suffer so badly during hangovers is due to dehydration, especially in the blood vessels of the brain, which contract when dried out. As satisfying as a drink or two may be for some people, it is a very good idea to balance it out with equal amounts of water.
In addition, perspiration eliminates fluids from the body in order to cool it. It does not have to be heavy perspiration either – even regular activities like breathing and walking all help eliminate water from the body. People who are ill or who have diabetes are also prone to increased fluid loss and dehydration.
(Learn about 5 Factors That Can lead to Dehydration.)
Symptoms of Dehydration
As the body loses vital levels of fluids, the most obvious symptom is thirst. But if this goes ignored, or undermanaged by not drinking enough or drinking the wrong types of fluids, you can expect:
- Darker colored urine and difficulty urinating
Why Is Hydration so Important?
When we drink water, electrolyte drinks, and other beverages, we don't usually think about what it does or where it goes. Well, it goes everywhere and helps your body perform a lot of its essential functions.
Your body is somewhere between 60 to 70% water, after all, and your internal organs and brain matter need it just to survive. A 15% drop in fluids is all it takes to start causing organ failure.
Water helps regulate your body temperature, digest food, keep blood flowing at the right consistency, flush out wastes and toxins, lubricate joints and eyes and balance your internal chemistry.
Hydration is also a critical health and safety issue. Workers need to stay properly hydrated to ensure their personal health as well as their ability to perform their work safely. As the body's fluids drop, energy decreases, which increases the chances for errors and accidents.
Impacts on Worker Health and Wellness
As the effects of dehydration worsen, workers move from easily hidden and easily ignored symptoms such as thirst, headaches, lightheadedness, and dry mouth to more visible and harmful conditions. These include drowsiness, disorientation, weak pulse, rapid heartbeat, and seizures.
Although some workers may have the self-awareness or the mandated health and safety protocols to take regular hydration breaks, others, such as those working in factory situations, may lack both.
Employers’ Obligations to Prevent Dehydration
Employers have a legal duty to provide and maintain a safe working environment, in accordance with local or federal occupational health and safety statutes. This not only includes ensuring access to water, but also ensuring adequate training on dehydration awareness and prevention, supporting a culture in which hydration breaks are the norm, and training employees in the recognition of the signs of dehydration in oneself and in others.
Some important hydration measures employers can implement:
- Training sessions
- Establishment of a culture of mutual protection (the buddy system)
- Posters, visual reminders, and online messages promoting safe hydration practices
- Making water and electrolyte-replenishing beverages easily available
- Providing shade and heat relief
- Maintaining a rehydration emergency plan
Workers should remain aware of potential dehydration conditions in all work situations, not just those of extreme heat or exertion. It is too easy to dismiss thirst as an inconvenience, but just like recharging your phone before its battery drops below 10%, it's much easier to deal with when you do it regularly and in advance.
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