It's humid and the temperatures are soaring; you've been working hard for hours. You feel dizzy, have a pounding headache, and your intense thirst suddenly reminds you that it's been hours since you've paused to drink something. You may be dehydrated, and that can cause severe health problems if left unchecked.
About 60 percent of your body is made up of water. Water is essential to human life; you need it to keep your body functioning properly and to regulate your body temperature. It flushes out wastes and toxins, helps digestion, lubricates the joints and eyes, and keeps skin healthy. You can't live without it.
When you don't drink enough fluids to replace the water that you lose through sweating and everyday activity, you can become dehydrated. When the normal water content of your body is reduced, it upsets your body's balance of minerals (salts and sugar), which affects the way that it functions. Just a small drop in body fluids will cause a loss of energy in the average person; a 15% drop in body fluids can cause death.
How you can become dehydrated
There are several factors that can contribute to dehydration: environment, amount of physical activity, illnesses or health conditions, and diet.
Working outside in sun, heat, and humidity can cause you to sweat and lose fluids rapidly. Heated indoor air also can also cause loss of fluids. Being in high altitudes, greater than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), may increase the amount you urinate and quicken your breathing, in turn, using up more of your body fluids.
If you do strenuous work or intense exercise that causes you to sweat, you are at increased risk for dehydration.
You can also become dehydrated as a result of an illness or a health condition. Fever, vomiting, or diarrhea cause your body to lose additional fluids, as would a condition such as diabetes that causes frequent urination.
Drinking too much alcohol can dehydrate you. As well, drinking sugary soda and coffee to hydrate yourself can actually dehydrate you even more. These drinks usually have caffeine in them which can cause you to urinate more. Also, drinking anything loaded with sugar makes the body work hard to process it, causing further dehydration.
Signs of dehydration
Dehydration can be described as mild, moderate or severe. Watch for the following signs.
MILD TO MODERATE
- excessive thirst
- dizziness or light-headedness
- fatigue or drowsiness
- dry mouth, lips and eyes
- dark yellow urine
- urinating only small amounts, infrequently (less than three or four times a day)
Moderate dehydration causes you to lose strength and stamina, and is the main cause of heat exhaustion. You should be able to reverse this level of dehydration yourself by drinking more fluids.
If dehydration is ongoing, it can affect your kidney function and cause kidney stones, liver, joint and muscle damage, cholesterol problems, and constipation.
Untreated mild or moderate dehydration can lead to severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Watch for the following symptoms:
- dry, wrinkled skin that falls slowly into position when pinched up
- unable to urinate or not urinating for eight hours
- feeling drowsy, disorientated, and irritated
- sunken eyes
- weak pulse
- rapid heartbeat
- cool hands and feet
- blood in your feces or vomit
Mental performance and concentration begin to decrease as you become increasingly dehydrated, affecting the safety of yourself and those around you.
What employers can do to help prevent dehydration
Employers have a duty to provide and maintain a safe working environment.
- Educate employees on the causes and to recognize the symptoms of dehydration, and instruct them on how to protect themselves.
- Continuously reinforce the messages with ongoing training and visual reminders (posters, for example) to encourage employees to hydrate themselves, and watch for signs of dehydration.
- Ensure there is a buddy system in place so workers can monitor one another for signs of dehydration.
- Make drinking water readily accessible and encourage your employees to drink often.
- Where possible, plan the work so that more strenuous work is done during cooler periods.
- Provide shade or shelters as relief from heat and rest areas for outdoor workers.
- Have an emergency plan in place that includes procedures for providing affected workers with first aid and medical care. This plan is a necessity especially in extreme environments.
What employees can do to prevent dehydration
The recommended daily intake of fluids can vary depending on the individual and on factors such as age, climate, and physical activity.
- Drink plenty of fluids to replace the fluids you are losing, at least a cup every 15 or 20 minutes. The fluid could be water, semi-skimmed milk or fruit juice. Sports drinks designed to replace body fluids and electrolytes may be taken in moderation.
- Fluid intake should equal fluid loss. On average, about one litre of water each hour may be required to replace the fluid loss.
- Avoid caffeine and sugary drinks, and NEVER consume alcohol (e.g. beer) to hydrate.
- Monitor your urine color; it should be clear to light yellow. If it is darker or concentrated, you may be dehydrated, and you must drink more fluids.
If you or a co-worker begin to show signs or symptoms of dehydration, call for medical help immediately. While you are waiting for help, move to a cool place to rest. If not treated immediately, severe dehydration can lead to complications and even death.
- Hot Environments - Control Measures, OSH Answers
Water fact sheet, Mayo Clinic
Dehydration fact sheet, Department of Labour, New Zealand
Dehydration, National Health Service (NHS), UK
Working in Hot Environments: Health and Safety Guide, CCOHS
- Podcast: Working in the Heat: How Hot is Too Hot?, CCOHS
Tips & Tools
When you are developing an ergonomics program to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs), an important element of that program is to ask workers questions about their health. A symptoms survey can help you learn when workers are experiencing any discomfort, pain or disability that may be related to workplace activities.
CCOHS has developed a sample checklist you can use to survey employees. The survey asks forty-six specific questions about the nature and location of pain or discomfort that workers may be experiencing, and the effect that the pain has had on the individual and their work. You can also customize the checklist to meet the needs of your workplace, and support your musculoskeletal disorder prevention initiatives.
Review the sample health survey from CCOHS.
Find more resources from CCOHS on the ergonomics key topic page.
If you still have questions about WMSDs or any other workplace heath or safety concern, contact our Inquiries & Client Services team. This service is free, reliable, and confidential.
Health and Safety To Go
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts provide an update on GHS in Canada and feature a timely encore presentation on lightning safety.
Feature podcast: Update on GHS in Canada
Lorraine Davison, Manager of Chemical Services at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety discusses the most recent updates in GHS and how these updates will impact Canadian workplaces.
The podcast runs 6:15 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore podcast: Lightning Safety
CCOHS discusses how to stay safe during a lightning storm.
The podcast runs 5:17 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
Every year, young workers are injured or even killed on the job. It has been proven that integrating workplace health and safety education into the classroom can help prevent accidents and injuries. Teachers can play a vital role in helping their students venture safely into the work world.
A while back, CCOHS released Health and Safety Teaching Tools, a practical, printed toolkit intended as a resource for teachers to use in the classroom to help educate their young students. In mid-May 2012 we launched a free, web-based, basic version of the toolkit as a public service. It contains the core content of the comprehensive toolkit, and is accessible from the Young Workers Zone.
CCOHS' Health & Safety Teaching Tools - Comprehensive is packed with more than 200 pages of safety information, tips, classroom activities, handouts, slides and quizzes. Originally released in print only, it is now available for a fee, in three formats - online, print and bundle (online plus print).
Health and Safety Teaching Tools is designed for teachers of intermediate and senior students - although many of the resources are adaptable for younger ages.
With students hitting the summer job trail, the online additions of Teaching Tools is a timely enhancement to the Young Workers Zone website.
Further details are available here:
Free Health and Safety Teaching Tools - Basic
Health & Safety Teaching Tools - Comprehensive
Young Workers Zone
Teaching Tools Guided Tour
Thank you to the more than 1,800 of you who took the Health and Safety Report readership survey in April and shared your opinions and suggestions with us. We learned that:
- 97.3% of you find the Health and Safety Report to be of value to you
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- 81.8% of you use the information in the Report to implement change to make your workplaces healthier and safer
The top three topics that readers expressed interest in seeing more of were:
- health and safety programs,
- health promotion, psychosocial, and
- current news and developments.
Most of you usually read the Report on your work computers; however 8.5% read it on a smartphone or ipad/tablet.
Your comments and suggestions will be used as we develop content for future issues and refresh the look and feel of the Report.
Mark Yetman of Iqaluit, Nunavut was the lucky winner of the iPod nano MP3 player.
As always, I invite you to submit story ideas and comments to editor. Your input is appreciated and valued as we strive to provide a credible resource that meets your needs.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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