As we return to work this summer, it is important to ensure that your worksite has strategies in place to address dehydration risks and ensure positive health and safety outcomes for your employees.
Studies have shown that at just 1 per cent dehydration, productivity suffers by 12 per cent. The effects of dehydration, which include decreased energy, cognitive function and reaction times, also increase the likelihood of accidents in the workplace.
It is therefore crucial that worksite managers and WHS duty holders recognise dehydration hazards and implement risk management strategies.
We’ve put together these tips to help your employees stay safe and hydrated this summer.
A study of miners working in the tropical climate of northern Australia indicated that 58% of workers were dehydrated at the commencement of their shift. Blue collar employees who begin work in a dehydrated state are likely to experience the adverse effects of further dehydration throughout their shift as they lose fluids through sweat.
Workers should be encouraged to drink water before they get to work. Some worksites have also implemented hydration testing, preventing dehydrated workers from endangering themselves and others.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty
Thirst is not a reliable measure of dehydration, usually occurring at around 2 per cent dehydration when health and safety outcomes have already been compromised. Workers in high heat environments should aim to drink at least 250ml every 15-20 minutes. WHS duty holders should encourage workers to carry water bottles or hydration backpacks to maximise accessibility.
- Carry Fluids at all times
Hydration is best maintained if fluids are consumed regularly in smaller volumes rather than in large irregular amounts. Implementing a programmed drinking strategy is recommended.
This is straight forward to achieve by setting up regular drink stations, have workers wear hydration backbacks or even allow students and office workers to have a water bottle on their desk.
4. Electrolyte drinks
Electrolyte drinks quickly replenish key electrolytes lost through sweat and high temperatures such as potassium, sodium and chlorides. Choose a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink (low GI) for sustained energy release, or a sugar free electrolyte drink for carb-free replenishment.
Alcohol or excessive caffeine consumption dehydrates the body and energy drinks such as Red Bull or Monster have been banned on some work sites due to their hyper-caffeinated content, lack of nutritional value and detrimental health effects.
A healthy diet will deliver fluids to the body along with essential minerals, salts and amino acids however heat often contributes to a loss of appetite while an unhealthy diet is often low in fluids.
5. Monitor hydration levels
Monitoring urine colour is a simple but reliable method for workers to evaluate their hydration status. Generally, the lighter the colour the higher the level of hydration, although factors such as diet, medications and vitamin supplements can have an effect. Using this Hydration Chart, workers can take responsibility for their own hydration.
6. Take adequate breaks
In high heat environments it is important that workers take regular breaks to allow their core temperature to cool down. Meal breaks are important for the maintenance of energy levels and workers should be encouraged to incorporate foods with high water content, such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, into their work lunches.
7. Smart planning
Where possible, the most physically demanding tasks should be scheduled for the coolest times of the day and breaks should be scheduled around peak temperature times to help minimise the risks of heat and sun exposure. Managers should also consider providing sheltered break areas or fans and misters to cool the area.
8. Remember to Slip Slap Slide
As well as dehydration risks, outdoor workers in Australia are exposed to dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and are at greater risk of developing skin cancer. The Cancer Council estimates that the exposure to UVR at work causes 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia every year.
To help manage these risks workers should cover as much skin as possible with clothing, hats, hard hat brims, and sunglasses.
9. Don't Forget to Slop on the Sunscreen
The Cancer Council advises that Sunscreen use is one of five important ways of reducing the risk of skin cancer. The most comprehensive study of cancer prevention in Australia estimated that, in 2010, more than 1700 cases of melanoma and 14,190 squamous cell carcinomas (a common keratinocyte cancer) were prevented by long-term sunscreen use.
Therefore all workers should frequently apply sunscreen whenever they are working outdoors. WHS duty holders should provide long lasting, water resistant, SPF50+ sunscreen on site and encourage staff to reapply every few hours.
10. Seek shade where possible
The major cause of skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation from the sun. With good protection against UV radiation, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented.
Shade is one of the easiest ways to protect against UV radiation. Good-quality shade can reduce UV exposure by up to 75%. In addition to reducing workers UV Exposure, shade also reduces the core body tempreature so your workers can maximise their productivity for longer. A cooler work environment also allows for fewer work breaks.
The provision of shade is also an important component in the design and creation of safe and healthy workplaces.