Episode 180: Workplace refreshers to prevent dehydration

Summer sounds – birds chirping, cicadas.


Rachelle: Summer is in the air. You can hear it, and maybe even feel the sun’s heat on your skin. Actually, on that note – maybe we should fill up our glasses and head into the shade?

Chris: Sounds like a plan! Let’s go.


CCOHS Podcast Intro Music

Rachelle: Welcome to CCOHS Podcasts, where today we’re taking a deep dive into dehydration. Let’s start with a little refresher.

Chris: Dehydration can be an occupational hazard, especially for outdoor workers in the warmer months.

Here’s why: About 60 percent of your body is made up of water, and you need water to keep your body functioning properly and to regulate your body temperature. When you don't drink enough fluids to replace the water that you lose through sweating and everyday activity – like work- you can become dehydrated.

Rachelle: When the water content of your body is reduced, it upsets your body's balance of minerals (think of things like salts and sugar). This reduction ultimately affects the way your body functions. In fact, just a small drop in body fluids can cause a loss of energy in the average person; and a 15% drop in body fluids can cause death.

Chris: Which is why staying hydrated is so important.

Rachelle: Exactly. Many factors can lead to dehydration: your environment – such as the temperature and humidity, the amount of physical activity, the type of clothing and personal protective equipment being worn, illnesses or health conditions, and your diet. So, if you’re an outdoor worker, you might actually be exposed to many of these risk factors.

Chris: That’s right. Let’s imagine a landscaper, for example. Starting in the early morning, they’re outside working all day long wearing personal protective equipment and clothing. Of course, the sun is making them thirsty, so they might head out to local cafe for an iced coffee…

Rachelle (jumps in): Hold on. An iced coffee? Doesn’t caffeine dehydrate you?


Chris: Correct! And that’s another risk factor. Sometimes, outdoor workers opt for beverages like coffee, soda, or other sugary drinks, which may FEEL thirst quenching, but in reality, they’re dehydrating you. Instead, it’s better to consume drinks, like water, and have at least one cup every 15 or 20 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. And if you are thirsty, it’s likely that you’re already dehydrated.

Rachelle: The frequency of consumption is important here, especially if you’re working outside in the heat. By drinking a cup every 15 minutes or so, you’re replacing the fluids that you’re losing. And side note: if you’re like me, and water isn’t your drink of choice, fruit drinks are okay, too, as well as sports drinks if consumed in moderation and in combination with water.

Chris: Good to have options! Now let’s chat about what to look out for when it comes to dehydration.

Rachelle: Great idea. Mild to moderate dehydration can come with a few signs and symptoms. More obvious signs can be things like excessive thirst, muscle cramps, dizziness or light-headedness, or headaches. Other less obvious signs can be fatigue or drowsiness, or having dry mouth, lips and eyes. You might also want to pay attention to your bathroom breaks! Dark yellow urine, as well as urinating only small amounts or less than three or four times a day, can mean you’re dehydrated.

Chris: There are a few other symptoms that can be a little (or a lot) more worrisome, and even painful. Moderate dehydration can cause you to lose your strength and stamina and is the main cause of heat exhaustion. If your dehydration is ongoing, it can affect your kidney function.

Rachelle: And that can cause liver, joint and muscle damage, cholesterol problems, constipation, and even kidney stones.

Chris: Ouch. Let’s take that as our cue to talk more about prevention. 

Rachelle: Got it – but before we do, let’s all remember: dehydration doesn’t just happen from working outdoors and under the sun. You can become dehydrated even if you’re sitting at your computer typing away (especially if it’s summer and you don’t have air conditioning!)

Chris: Very true. So, to recap: your fluid intake should equal fluid loss, and that’s dependent on the individual, as well as factors such as age, activity and climate. And don’t forget –coffee doesn’t count as a hydrating beverage – even if iced!

Rachelle: Point taken. This next tip is for the employer. Look at educating your employees on the causes of dehydration. Make sure they know how to recognize the signs in themselves and their coworkers, and know what to do to stay protected.

Chris: This means continuously reinforcing messages with ongoing training and visual reminders, like posters, and making sure that drinking water is readily accessible. You may also want to consider a buddy system where workers can monitor each other for signs of dehydration. It is also important to encourage and allow workers to take water breaks throughout the day.

Rachelle: Another tip for workplaces is to take a look at staff schedules. Where possible, plan for more strenuous, outdoor activities to be done during cooler periods of the day, like before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Try to find other ways for workers to keep their cool, too, like providing shade or shelters for rest breaks.

Chris: Having an emergency plan in place to help any affected workers with first aid and medical care is also a good idea, and necessary for extreme environments.

Rachelle: When it comes to dehydration, prevention is key. Untreated mild or moderate dehydration can lead to severe dehydration – and this is a considered a medical emergency which requires immediate medical attention.

Since part of prevention is recognition, train staff to watch for the following symptoms of severe dehydration: dry, wrinkled skin that falls slowly back into position when pinched up; being unable to urinate or not urinating for eight hours; feeling drowsy, disorientated, and irritated; sunken eyes; a weak pulse; a rapid heartbeat; not sweating, cool hands and feet (even in the heat); and seizures and blood in feces or vomit.

If any of these symptoms are occurring, even at the earliest stages, call for medical help right away, and if you can, move to a cool place to rest.

Chris:  As we wrap up, it’s important to note that we all have a role to play in staying safe. For workers, that means staying hydrated, and giving your body the nutrients it deserves, and keeping it protected from the elements, like sun.

Rachelle: And for workplaces, that means making sure that workers have access to fresh drinking water, have a safe work environment and are equipped to protect themselves, and are trained to know the signs of dehydration and know what to do if it occurs.

Chris: For more information on preventing dehydration and keeping workers safe, you can visit ccohs.ca.

Rachelle: Thanks for listening!