Construction workers are the athletes of the work world. Just like athletes in sports, people working in the trades have a higher hydration requirement compared to someone working in the office setting. Dehydration in any setting negatively affects performance and can lead to injury. Read on to learn more about proper hydration and how to prevent dehydration on the job site.
What is dehydration?
For those who are healthy and have no underlying health issues that increase hydration needs, dehydration happens when you lose more body fluids than you take in. This places your body in a fluid deficit. In fact, studies have shown that just a slight decrease in bodily fluid levels, as little as 2%, can result in mental complications with short-term memory. Common signs and symptoms include:
What Causes Dehydration?
Normal body temperature when healthy is 98.6 degrees F or 37 degrees C. When your environment, activity level, illness, or a combination of these factors increase your body temperature, you will notice an increase in:
- Respiratory rate
- Feeling thirsty
- Dry mouth
These are all signs your body is working harder to keep cool and prevent your temperature from getting too high. Unfortunately, when these signs occur, dehydration has already begun, which means that your body is in a fluid or water deficit and needs to be replenished.
Sweat and construction go hand in hand since most of the work is done without the benefit of air conditioning. Consequently, workers in the skilled trades deal with dehydration primarily during the summer months. Increased heat causes the body to lose water through sweat and an increased respiratory rate. This workload is on top of your body’s water needs for the labors of your job.
How to Test for Dehydration
If you see more than one of the symptoms above, you can do a simple skin turgor test for additional confirmation.
- Gently pinch a section of skin on a forearm with two fingers.
- Let go and observe how long the skin fold takes to return to normal.
- Properly hydrated skin should return to normal in under 3 seconds.
Depending on the degree of dehydration, rehydration can be as simple as increasing water intake for mild cases or be so severe that intravenous fluids are needed in the emergency room.
Can I be Dehydrated without Sweating?
Here is an example typical of cold construction sites. Workers bundle up against the cold. The added weight of the clothing adds to the effort needed to work. Some studies suggest a workload increase of up to 40%. The increased workload will increase your respiratory rate, which requires more fluids. The air you breathe needs moisture, and the colder it gets, the less moisture it has. So your fluid requirements on a cold job site can be similar to what you need on a warm job site, even though you don’t sweat as much.
Could Air Can Fool Your Body
With cooler air being dryer than warm air, it actually works against us in another way. Sweat evaporates faster in cold air. This is great for helping to maintain our body temperature, but it also compounds our body’s water loss. Since most of us associate thirst with heat, we neglect to drink as much water as we should.
What Conditions Can Increase My Risk of Dehydration?
Other factors can increase your risk of dehydration on the job. Conditions such as:
- Health Conditions
- Elevation Above Sea Level
- Prescribed Medication
- Dry Climates
- Poor Ventilation
- Restrictive Clothing
As we age, our body’s ability to sweat decreases. You often hear older people remark that they can’t handle hot weather. Some chronic health conditions and medications further compromise our body’s ability to stay cool or increase our daily fluid requirements.
How Do I Prevent Dehydration?
Make hydration a priority. Educating team members about common hydration best practices and common symptoms is key. Many times, there are symptoms of dehydration that can be seen before the effects are felt. Teach workers to look for signs like: dark urine, less frequent urination, daytime fatigue without reason.
Likewise, encourage and reward proper hydration practices such as drinking 50 to 64 oz of water per day over regular breaks or intervals. Water bottles commonly come in 16 oz sizes, so individuals can aim to drink at least four bottles per day, thirsty or not. It is likely that this goal will need to be increased during the warmer months and when higher activity levels are needed for work.
1. Drink Water
Limit beverages with caffeine and sugar. Caffeine is a natural diuretic that steals water from the body and tricks the body into feeling energized. It can compound and hide symptoms from workers and push them into a severe case of dehydration. Sugar increases your body’s water requirements. True, in combination with electrolytes, sugar or dextrose can be a part of maintaining hydration with drinks like Powerade or Gatorade, but even these drinks need to supplement a steady intake of water.
2. Keep Scheduled Hydration Breaks
Take regular, frequent hydration breaks. Maintain these scheduled hydration breaks in the cold months as well as the warm months. It is tempting to skip breaks and hustle through work in cold weather. Stay alert to dehydration signs when bundled up against the cold, and continue drinking before you get thirsty.