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.

Stay Safe in the Heat: Sports and Heat Awareness Tips

Whether you’re a coach or an athlete, there are several steps you can take to stay safe in the heat. With heat-related illnesses being an ever-present concern, here are some of the ways to stay heat aware and keep players and staff safe during practices and games:

  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat illness
  • Monitor on-field conditions in real time
  • Acclimate to high-risk conditions before intense exertion
  • Assess each athlete’s overall fitness level
  • Having a backup plan during periods of elevated heat risk
  • Establishing an emergency action plan (EAP) in the event heat stroke occurs

Among high school athletes, exertion-related heat stroke is a leading cause of preventable death. According to the National Federation of State School Associations (NFHS), 18 high school athletes have died due to heat exposure in the past 10 years during practice.

Athletes of all ages are at risk, not just children, so heat awareness is paramount at every level of competition. To help with that, here are some easily implemented and effective heat safety tips:

1) Know the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Illness

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can come on suddenly, especially when temperatures and humidity levels rise gradually. That means vigilance is the first step in preventing heat illnesses. If the team’s coaches and trainers are familiar with the signs of heat exhaustion, they can intervene before it progresses to heat stroke.

Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cool skin that may be moist to the touch
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nausea
  • Headache

If not treated, heat exhaustion may develop into heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Heat stroke presents with profound confusion, difficulty speaking, a dangerously high body temperature (more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit), and loss of consciousness.

Heat stroke deaths are completely preventable if coaches, teammates and parents act as soon as someone shows signs of heat illness.

Heat Aware's Heat Cards - HATS-20A | The signs, symptoms and treatment of heat illnesses2) Monitoring On-field Conditions in Real Time

Prompt care is important for heat illnesses, but prevention is the priority. That starts with monitoring on-field conditions and responding quickly if conditions become dangerous.

Throughout practice, take several temperature readings and pay close attention to humidity levels, wind patterns, and sun exposure. You don’t need bulky, sophisticated equipment to do this. A simple liquid crystal thermometer (LCT) can provide accurate temperature readings. LCTs are also weightless and compact, so they’re often integrated into ID badges, and because they’re cost effective, they can be distributed among coaching and trainer staff.

With temperature-taking tools like LCTs on hand, the coaching staff can keep a close eye on practice conditions and respond when they are no longer safe.

3) Acclimating to High-risk Conditions Before Intense Exertion

The vast majority of serious heat illnesses occur during the first few practices, before everyone has had a chance to adjust to the weather and activity levels. The NFHS recommends coaches implement a heat acclimation program that progresses over several weeks and prioritizes the following:

  • Shorter, less intense practices
  • Longer recovery periods between stretches of activity
  • Focusing initial practices on instruction instead of conditioning
  • Introducing protective gear slowly during initial practices

Longer breaks, plenty of water and fluids and minimal protective gear reduce the heat burden on athletes as they ramp up conditioning. This acclimation period also gives coaches the ability to identify anyone with an elevated risk of heat illness.

4) Assessing Each Athlete’s Overall Fitness Level

Prior to intense practices, it’s important for the team’s doctors to assess each athlete’s health and fitness levels. This includes identifying any medical conditions or medications that may place the person at a higher risk of heat illness. Examples include obesity, heart conditions, and certain mental illnesses (which can make it difficult to detect changes in temperature).

With this information, the team’s trainers can dedicate extra attention to anyone at elevated risk. This could include providing additional fluids, taking the athlete’s vitals more often, and developing an individualized plan for high-risk individuals.

5) Having a Backup Plan During Periods of Elevated Heat Risk

In some cases, the heat is too dangerous for any athlete to practice – regardless of fitness level. It is up to the coaching staff to recognize this and adjust accordingly. In fact, the NFHS recommends that teams have a “plan B” for those times when heat derails practice. For example, coaches may move activities to an indoor facility where air conditioning is available. Or, coaches may reduce practice intensity, switching to instruction instead of exertion.

Whatever the team’s plan B, it should be established before it needs to be implemented. Identify an alternative location or practicing method and communicate this to the entire team. That way, when the backup plan is needed, it can be quickly implemented.

6) Establishing an EAP for Heat Stroke Events

Another plan that every sports team needs is an emergency action plan for heat stroke. EAPs specify everything the team needs to know when a player develops heat stroke, including:

  • Where to take the patient for rapid cooling
  • What resources are available for treating heat stroke, and where they are located
  • Procedures for treating the patient, depending on presentation of symptoms
  • Who to contact if a player experiences heat stroke
  • Contact information for the team’s doctor or medical staff

An EAP formalizes the team’s response to a heat-related medical emergency and encourages a rapid response when it’s needed most. Serious complications due to heat stroke may be averted with prompt treatment, and an EAP increases the likelihood that it will be delivered.

Stay Heat Aware So the Team Stays Safe During Summer Sports

When the heat is on during the summer, so is the risk for athletes. To keep players safe and in the game, it’s up to everyone to practice heat awareness. That starts with vigilance – tracking on-field conditions, specifically. Temperature-taking tools like LCTs can make it easier to monitor conditions without stretching the team’s budget.