I have a journeyman electrician friend who often works on construction sites, and she told me that she was working one job where the boss made sure everyone had water on hand—which as great—but the sign reminding employees to stay hydrated was posted behind a door in the break room. Putting up signs where people least need them is a real missed opportunity. It's easy to forget to take care of yourself or make sure you stay safe when you're busy doing your job, so putting signs like this one outdoors makes a huge difference. When she mentioned it to a supervisor, the sign got moved and now the workers can see the reminder when they actually need it.
Water makes up at least two-thirds of the human body. It's no surprise, then, that we need to drink plenty of it to make sure that our body functions properly by keeping joints and eyes lubricated, the skin healthy, and digesting functioning properly.
Taking in enough water is even more important during the hotter months of the year, when water evaporates more quickly from the skin. When the water content of the body is reduced, it needs to be replaced soon enough or it will affect workers' performance on the job, and possibly their health and safety as well.
Dealing with Dehydration on the Job Site
Staying hydrated is one of the very best things any worker can do to stay healthy on the job site. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking enough water is critical for the proper functioning of the human body, and a dehydrated worker is likely to experience symptoms of stress and disorientation that can be life-threatening on the job.
Drinking plenty of water while working outdoors on hot days is a serious matter and it's about more than just comfort. Dehydration causes strain on the heart, which makes it harder for blood to circulate. Add to this the fact that there is already plenty of stress on the job, not to mention all of the physical and muscular exertion, and you have a recipe for serious health complications.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) advises that workers should be reminded to drink water frequently throughout the work day to maintain good hydration, especially during the days when the temperatures are high.
Having plenty of cool water nearby, within easy reach of workers who are already doing physical labor, is mandatory. But you should also consider taking a few extra steps. Posting signs outdoors to remind employees about the dangers of dehydration is a good way to keep reminding them that there's nothing heroic or admirable about working through the thirst (learn more in In Sight, In Mind: Reinforcing Safety Policies and Procedures).
It's also a good idea to make proper hydration a part of your toolbox talks at least once a week. If reminding a group of adults to drink their water seems too basic, remember how easy it is to get caught up in the work they're doing out in the field. That weekly reminder could make all the difference.
How to Spot Dehydration in Workers
Reminding workers to stay hydrated is just one part of the equation; you also need to make sure you can identify the symptoms of dehydration and assist any employee who might be experiencing them.
The signs of dehydration are similar to the symptoms of heat stress. They can include:
- Dry mouth
- Muscle cramps
- Rashes or redness on the skin
- Rapid pulse
- Urine in low volume and more yellowish or darker than normal
No one can determine if a worker is properly hydrated better than that person, but during periods of extreme heat, encouraging employees to remind each other to rest and drink water throughout the day is a valuable step to take.
Don't Wait for the Symptoms
Workers who feel a sense of thirst or who are sweating profusely will need to drink water more often. They should never wait for severe symptoms of dehydration to show before taking action. Rest, shade, and water should be used at regular intervals to ensure a safe and productive workday.