Stay Hydrated while Working in the Shop
As we mentioned in our blog post Beat the Heat, Keep Workers Safe, around 1,000 people succumb to heat stroke every year. Countless more suffer other heat-related illnesses such as heat rash, heat cramps and heat exhaustion.
In many of those instances, dehydration was a leading culprit. With summer’s heat just ahead, now’s the time to plan for proper hydration throughout your shop.
In fleet service shops, mechanics may not spend much of their shifts working in the blistering sun, but that doesn’t mean heat can’t impact their health. Hot engines, welding, heat-generating repair processes and a general lack of quality air circulation can all add up to raise surrounding air temperatures.
As air temperatures go up, body temperatures also increase along with higher levels of perspiration. If your crews aren’t continually replacing the body fluids they lose through sweating, dehydration can take place.
Allow shop workers to become dehydrated, even mildly, and severe headaches and muscle pain may be the result. They may lose their ability to concentrate on their tasks and work safely. If severe enough, heat exhaustion and life-threatening heat stroke can take place.
How does dehydration work?
In its most basic terms, dehydration takes place when the body loses more fluids than it takes in. When working in unusually high heat or humidity, people normally begin to sweat. That sweat captures heat from inside the body’s core and evaporates it in order to carry it away and cool the body. But if fluids aren’t being replaced in proportion to the amount of sweat lost, the body dehydrates and heat-related conditions can start setting in.
Sweat contains electrolytes, which are naturally formed salts that create ions in the body’s various fluids. These ions then carry the electrical energy necessary for muscle contractions and nerve impulses, and move nutrients in and wastes out of your cells. They balance pH levels and ensure nerves, muscles, heart and brain are all working properly.
When dehydration lowers the electrolyte balance in the body is low due to dehydration, muscles begin to cramp. In fact, cramping is one of the first signs of heat-related illness and a signal that rest and hydration are needed.
Waiting is the danger
People who wait until they’re actually thirsty to hydrate are waiting too long. Thirst is a body’s trigger, a physiological response to get people to drink more fluids. If fluid intake isn’t sufficient, dehydration becomes more severe. The body’s mechanisms to shed fluid, including sweating and urination, decrease. Water leaves the cells, transferring into the bloodstream in an effort to maintain the required amount of blood volume and pressure.
As dehydration progresses, the tissues of the body begin to dry out and malfunction causing shock and severe damage to internal organs like kidneys, liver and brain. Comas are even possible if dehydration is left untreated.
In other words, don’t wait for physical feelings of thirst. It only takes about a 2% loss of the body’s fluids to physically experience thirst. By the time you feel thirsty, you are beyond the time needed to replenish fluids. It's better to hydrate throughout the day, drinking water or an electrolyte-based beverage every 15 to 20 minutes. Additional drink breaks may also be needed.
To make drinking part of the daily routine, some shop managers are opting to keep an ample supply of electrolyte-rich Sports Drinks on hand, providing personal Water Bottles to go with them. Several even supply their employees with wearable Hydration Packs and fill Portable Coolers with water, sports drinks, wet towels, ice packs and other cooling aids.
How much hydration is enough?
Staying hydrated is an effective way for workers to guard against the whole range of heat illnesses, from the merely painful to the potentially deadly. But exactly how much hydration is required?
The simple answer is “it depends.” Age, body proportions, gender, the intensity of the work and workers’ general physical condition will all have an effect on the amount of water needed.
Based on activity levels and ambient temperatures, some experts recommend that workers drink approximately 16 ounces of hydrating fluids before starting a shift, and continue to drink between 5 and 7 additional ounces every 15 to 20 minutes thereafter. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests workers who are exposed to temperatures between 103 and 115 degrees for any amount of time drink four cups of water per hour.
Stay smart, keep cool
Preventing dehydration in the workplace isn’t an overwhelming challenge. In most instances, ensuring that water and other hydrating drinks are available at all times, and reminding workers to drink on schedule will be enough.
That said, keep in mind that while proper hydration is important, it’s only part of a larger effort. There are many ways that will help all of your workers keep their cool, doing the jobs that need to be done without risking their health or safety.
Try out a few of the following ideas, and see which ones work in your setting. Above all, realize that preventing heat-related illnesses takes commitment and planning -- all the stuff you’re already good at!
● Pass on the caffeine
When the heat’s on, don’t overdo the caffeine. While no one argues that caffeine is satisfying, it also contributes to dehydration. Stick to pure, clean water and beverages that contain electrolytes, such as Sports Drinks.
● Cool clothes
Wear cool, loose-fitting clothing in light-colored fabrics when possible. Make sure the fabric breathes and allows your body to easily regulate its temperature. If a task puts your workers out in the sun, see to it they’re wearing a brimmed hat and wearing sunscreen with an SPF-rating of no less than 30. And DO NOT work shirtless!
Most cases of heat stroke take place in the first few days of hot weather. For those who work in the heat, time to adapt isn’t just a good idea, it’s a mandatory. Consider performing about half the normal workload at first, gradually working up to 100% over the next 5 to 7 days.
● Foods for thought
Avoid heavy meals, especially foods with lots of proteins, including meat. Stick with light meals and snacks across the day. Leafy greens, fresh fruit and nuts replenish electrolytes. If, on the other hand, your body is breaking down lots of heavy foods, it’s also creating metabolic heat.
● Cold water splash
A simple mist from a garden hose or wet rag on the back of your neck, a little bit of cooling water goes a long way to make you feel better. The wrist (just below your palm) is another great spot to use some cold water or ice to cool down quickly.
● Damp towels
A damp towel around your neck throughout the work day can protect your neck from the harmful effects of the sun and keep you cool. You can also benefit just by rubbing ice wrapped in a cloth around your body.
● Scheduling change-up
Can the day start earlier, so the toughest parts of the job are out of the way before peak heat? If you’ve got the flexibility, the benefits of a little shift change may be well worth it.
● Consider cooling vests
For employees who spend some serious time in the heat, cooling vests are a great idea. Fill the pockets with chemical cold packs, and watch the look of relief on the wearer.
● Turning up the fans
Heavy-duty Cooling Fans create breezes that help perspiration evaporate from your skin much faster than it would in air that’s not moving. That’s just a fact.
● Ice water buckets
A nearby bucket of ice water can be a real lifesaver on a sweltering day. We’re not talking about drinking water here. Ice water buckets placed around the shop let workers grab a chilled splash of water for their wrists or face, or even to soak a towel in for the forehead. As long as they’re conveniently located, believe us, they’ll get used.
● Heed the warnings
No matter how committed your team is to keeping everyone cool, hydrated and healthy, the heat may get to someone. You can help plan for that day by making sure your crew knows the warning signs of heat exhaustion: heavy sweating, rapid pulse, dizziness, goosebumps, muscle cramps and severe headache. Heat exhaustion is the lead-in to heat stroke and is characterized by a lack of sweating even in the heat, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, flushed skin, rapid breathing and a racing pulse.
Remember, it may be your lead to take, but it’s the responsibility of everyone you oversee to do their part in staying hydrated and healthy. Between your guidance and their participation, you can make a measurable difference in preventing heat-related illnesses in your shop. Work smart. And keep it cool.