Heat related illnesses are a serious hazard on industrial work sites, especially outdoors during summer months.
With temperatures in some locales soaring past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the need for workers to stay hydrated is a constant concern. Because industrial workers are also exposed to operational hazards, many are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). However, multiple layers of stifling equipment combined with high heat environments can create potentially fatal situations. Under these circumstances the risk of dehydration increases dramatically, which can negatively impact the ability to maintain focus, posture, and function on the job. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the body has roughly 2.6 million sweat glands, and for workers to replace lost fluids, they should drink water every fifteen minutes.
So, what should managers and employers do to keep their employees protected from dehydration?
Keeping cool in high heat environments
OSHA suggests that workers who are exposed to temperatures between 103- and 115-degrees drink four cups of water (one quart) per hour. Furthermore, if workers are exposed to direct sunlight, the heat index can rise another 15 degrees, making it even more important to stay hydrated. Water is the preferred choice of beverage over soft drinks or coffee, because caffeine depletes electrolytes more quickly and causes dehydration to worsen.
It also advises that workers take more frequent breaks under these high temperature, stressful situations. Employers should provide necessary shade or cooling facilities on-site so workers are able to cool down before re-entering the work-site environment.
Notice the warning signs
Employers and on-site managers should be able to spot dehydration before it becomes an issue. They should also train the workers how to spot the warning signs and establish a “buddy” system where the employees watch out for each other. According it OSHA those most at risk of dehydration are employees:
- Who are directly under the sun
- Who are working for hours at a time
- Who are wearing PPE
Some warnings that workers are dehydrated are:
- Excessive fatigue
- Sunken eyes
- Red face
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
- Cool, clammy skin
- Goosebumps or chills
- No longer perspiring
- Dark colored urine
One of the best ways to identify just how much water is needed to replenish dehydrated workers’ fluids is to assess the color of their urine. There are five stages of dehydration based on color, ranging from clear (fully hydrated) to dark yellow (needs water immediately). On the low end of the spectrum, workers should consume 8-12 glasses of water per day. Those who are severely dehydrated should promptly drink a large bottle of water to protect against heat stroke.
When leaving the worksite at the end of the day, workers should be reminded to keep drinking water until their urine is clear, so they will be fully hydrated before retiring for the night.