Heat-related illnesses are a serious hazard on industrial work sites, especially those that are 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 protection 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 workers' ability to maintain focus, posture and operational functionality on the job.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the human body has roughly 2.6 million sweat glands, and for workers to appropriately replace lost fluids, they should drink water every 15 minutes.
So what should managers and employers do to keep their employees protected from dehydration?
Keeping cool in high-heat environments
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggested workers who are exposed to temperatures between 103 and 115 degrees drink four cups of water per hour. Water is the preferred choice of beverage over soft drinks or coffee because caffeine actually depletes electrolytes more quickly and causes dehydration to worsen.
Furthermore, if workers are exposed to direct sunlight, the heat index can actually rise another 15 degrees, OSHA noted, making it even more important for them to remain hydrated.
It's also advised that workers take more frequent breaks under these high-temperature and stressful situations. Employers should provide necessary shade or cooling facilities on-site so workers are able to cool down before re-entering the work environment.
Noticing the warning signs
Employers and on-site managers should be capable of spotting dehydration before it becomes a serious health issue.
According to 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 of the more prominent warnings that workers are dehydrated are:
- Excessive fatigue
- Trouble focusing
- Sunken eyes
- Rapid heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
- Darkly 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. Employees can do this on their own to evaluate their dehydration level.
There are five stages of dehydration based on color, ranging from clear to dark yellow. On the low end of the spectrum, workers should consume 8-12 glasses of water per day, while those who are severely dehydrated should promptly drink an entire large bottle of water to protect against heat stroke.