Five Ways to Improve Hydration in Heat and Keep Workers Safe

Keep Your Workers Safe with Proper Hydration

In 2013, there were more than 16,000 reports of heat illness that were serious enough to result in at least one day of missed work, according to the U.S. Office of Compliance. Among those reports, there were 38 fatalities due to heat illness. It is up to employers and supervisors to prevent these potentially-fatal outcomes, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a place of employment that is free from recognizable hazards.

Heat is a recognized danger, but employers can counter it by keeping their workers cool and hydrated.

Five Ways to Improve Hydration in Heat

As workers exert themselves, they rapidly lose water in the form of sweat. This is a critical means of controlling body temperature, and without constant rehydration, it’s a mechanism that eventually fails. Once the body can no longer control its temperature, heat illness is imminent, so it’s critical that it never gets to this point. Here’s how employers can ensure their workers are safe from the heat at all times:

  1. Verify that workers are rehydrating – It’s common for workers to neglect rehydration while focused on completing a task. Dehydration is something that usually emerges slowly, so workers may not realize how dehydrated they are until it starts causing problems. This is why workers shouldn’t be the only line of accountability when it comes to hydration.
    Employers can learn a lot just by observing their employees and determining which ones are neglecting rehydration. Many of these workers would be happy to take a break and rehydrate, but they may not realize how often they need to replenish their fluids. Employers can use reference materials, which may be as simple as a laminated card, to remind workers when it’s time to take a break.
  2. Keep track of changing weather conditions – Even a difference of a few degrees may make the difference where heat illness is concerned, so keep an eye on the thermometer. Even better, give each worker a way to keep track of the temperature so they know when they need to rehydrate more frequently. For example, when the heat index climbs above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers will need between 12 and 24 ounces of fluid every hour to remain hydrated. When the heat index rises above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, though, workers will need to double or triple their water intake to stay hydrated.
    If workers have their own temperature-keeping device on hand, they can react to climbing temperatures right away, and hydrate accordingly.
  3. Make use of shade – Drinking water and replenishing electrolytes are essential elements of staying hydrated, as is reducing temperatures when possible. It’s highly recommended that there is a shaded rest area on every worksite, even if that shade is provided by a tent. In fact, tents typically make the perfect shade solutions because they can be moved around when it’s convenient to do so. Tents are also a valuable source of shade when there are no other sources of shade to be had. Consider setting up a hydration station inside the tent, along with air movers to circulate air and improve cooling.
  4. Use cooling equipment – Keeping workers cool is one way to keep them hydrated, so any tools that improve cooling efforts are tools worth investing in. They don’t have to be expensive or complicated devices, either. For instance, a simple neck wrap can be soaked in cool water and applied to wick heat away from the worker. These neck wraps are inexpensive and can be used over and over. They also help workers remain comfortable as well, which enables better, more reliable performance while on the job.
  5. Know the signs of dehydration – Dehydration isn’t just a danger to the worker. Once dehydration sets in, job performance suffers greatly, to the point where the worker may become a safety risk to themselves and those around them. According to a 2015 study published by Loughborough University, being dehydrated is the equivalent of being legally drunk when evaluating job performance. Even a modest amount of fluid loss (2 to 3 percent of the body’s total) is enough to induce considerable fatigue.
    Dehydration can produce a range of symptoms, including headaches, tiredness, dizziness and an inability to concentrate. Perhaps the most obvious sign of dehydration is dark urine color. When urine takes on a darker hue, as in darker than apple juice, it’s frequently due to dehydration and reduced fluid in the urine.
    There should always be someone on the worksite to spot any signs of severe dehydration or heat illness. Oversight in this area will hopefully stop instances of dangerous dehydration before they progress into medical emergencies.

Hydration is vitally important in protecting workers from harm while on the job. It’s up to employers, then, to implement these hydration safety methods and ensure their workers are prepared to meet the summer heat.