Hydration – for Safety AND Productivity

August 22, 2018



The summer heat can make workers sizzle, particularly when their workplace is highly exposed to the outdoor environment. Think of construction workers, farmers, postal workers  and people in various transportation jobs, and  the need for good hydration is obvious. However, heat can penetrate even the most state-of-the- art fulfillment centers, manufacturing facilities and warehouses as well. Even employees in well air-conditioned offices can exhibit the effects of dehydration.

Dehydration is a serious workplace issue. It can jeopardize safety, and productivity can suffer.

Consider these workplace facts in relation to the effects of dehydration:

  • Studies show that just 1% dehydration can reduce productivity by 12%. By the time an employee feels thirsty, they can be 2-3% dehydrated; at this level productivity can decline by 25% or more.*
  • A dehydration level of 3% can slow reaction time by the same amount as a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. Statistics indicate that a driver is five times more likely to cause an accident at 0.08 BAC. So, what may seem like a small degree of dehydration is more than a productivity problem; it’s a safety hazard.

Research suggests that 75% of American adults are at least mildly dehydrated every day. ** This contributes to impairment of brain functions such as short-term memory, focus, and visual motor tracking; it’s no wonder that even mild dehydration can have a negative impact on safety and productivity. Regardless of whether the job requires employees to be outside directly in the heat, in a truck, a warehouse, factory or even an air-conditioned office, dehydration can happen. Dehydration increases workplace accidents, errors, and waste due to problems with information processing, mental fatigue and headaches, as well as dizziness and lightheadedness.

Management and employees alike should be alert for symptoms of dehydration including:

  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea, dizziness or confusion
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Hot, dry skin

A Safety & Health magazine article offered this rule of thumb: “the recommended amount of water intake is one quart per hour of active work or exercise for the average adult.” 

That’s a gallon every four hours. The article suggests frequent intake, such as every 15 minutes. While that may sound like a lot, it’s an important safety precaution to guard against dehydration. Encourage your employees to drink up!

Indeed, drinking enough water is the best way to prevent dehydration. However, other liquids help, including coffee.  While several sources report that although coffee IS a diuretic, it does not cause dehydration. Certain foods are water-rich and can also promote hydration. Think of watermelon, celery, strawberries, cucumbers and lettuce.

Does this imply bringing in a veggie tray or fruit plate for employees on particularly hot days? Maybe! It may not be as popular as a box of doughnuts, but certainly, it could be practical in terms of safety and productivity.

Summertime is a great time to be on guard against dehydration, but dehydration is a year-round threat to safety and productivity. Promote sufficient fluid intake throughout the year. It’s simply good for business.

 *8 Things Every Employer Should Know About Worker Dehydration

**Second Wind Water Systems

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