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Heat Stress Awareness Is Critical With Increased PPE

worker man as he drinks from a plastic water bottle on construction site

Hot Months and Increased Use of PPE Require Heightened Awareness of Signs of Heat Stress

In 2020, our Summer jobsites are going to look a little different than previous years. Working in the heat during the pandemic will require us to redefine our safety measures as temperatures start climbing. Workers putting in a full shift wearing a mask or face covering are going to get hot and sweat more than usual. We need to make sure all workers are staying properly hydrated throughout their shifts.


How To Know If You’re Getting Dehydrated

Working through the conditions of dehydration is not only physically uncomfortable, but can be downright dangerous when operating heavy equipment and working with tools. For our safety, and everyone on our crew, the need to replenish electrolytes is vital.

Signs Of Dehydration

  • Low blood pressure
  • White fingertips
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Skin that takes longer to return to its normal shape after you pinch it

Symptoms Of Electrolyte Loss

  • Muscle cramping or twitching
  • Fatigue, dizziness, nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Loss of focus or confusion
  • Headache

Even mild dehydration can have negative effects on physical and mental performance. It can result in reduced energy levels, reduced endurance, and can even harm brain function. A familiar reaction to electrolyte loss is cramping. But by the time cramping sets in the body is already out of electrolytes. Cramping is the body’s way of indicating it is on empty. The goal in replenishing electrolytes is not so much to prevent cramping, but to maintain specific bodily functions at optimal levels.

Needless to say, if you, or a coworker is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s time to find some shade, and replenish. Always better to take a break rather than risk possible injury.

EVEN BETTER is to stay ahead of these symptoms. Studies confirm that keeping your electrolyte levels up allows you to stay focused, and work in the heat for longer periods between breaks.

Best Ways To Replenish

Water can fend off dehydration but water alone won’t replenish lost sodium, chloride, potassium and other minerals. Just drinking sports drinks isn’t the only way to replenish electrolytes.

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are full of electrolytes and carbohydrates (in the form of sugar) – which bind to electrolytes and water, delivering water and nutrients to your muscles faster. If you are working hard all day, this level of sugar is actually helpful. If you are working at a low level of intensity, then a good rule of thumb is to reduce your sugar intake by also including some sugar-free options.

Enhanced Water

Adding electrolyte packets to your water is an economical and effective way to replenish lost electrolytes. These drink mixes are enhanced with minerals necessary to replenish sodium, potassium and other lost minerals, and are beneficial to keep workers going and energy levels up. Some brands of water contain added electrolytes, but most people drink more water when it’s flavored.

Coconut Water

Packed with nutrients and low in sugar, coconut water is a great way to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes, especially potassium–which can prevent muscle cramping.

Natural Rehydration

A natural rehydration drink with electrolytes includes water, salt and sugar. Mix water with a 10-1 ratio of sugar (or honey) to sea salt. This will do the trick if you need to avoid, or reduce your sugar intake.


By the way, probably a good idea to ease off of the coffee on hot days. Coffee, and other caffeinated drinks, act as a diuretic – which  causes your body to produce urine and speeds up dehydration. 


Why Not Just Drink More Water?

In the heat of the job, sweating is the biological reaction to cool core body temperature. It seems logical that drinking water would replace water lost through sweating. However, drinking more water without replacing lost electrolytes can cause dilution and deplete what little remaining electrolytes are left. So while drinking water is a requirement in preventing dehydration, workers also need to replenish electrolytes. Having both water and sports drinks available onsite for workers is a good rule of thumb to prevent and treat dehydration.


How Electrolytes Can Boost Productivity

We can all picture athletes chugging down sports drinks to replenish their lost electrolytes. But, athletes aren’t the only ones who need to keep their bodies hydrated and fluid levels balanced. The demands of construction can really throw workers’ bodies off balance both physically and mentally. Understanding the importance of hydration for construction workers keeps us safe and ultimately more productive. During the summer months we need to find effective ways to beat the heat and get the job done!


The problems begin when the sweating starts. Excessive sweating during exercising—or when pouring concrete, hanging sheet rock, fitting pipe, or swinging a hammer—is what leads to dehydration and subsequent electrolyte loss. When bodies sweat, they lose both water and electrolytes, particularly sodium and chloride.

Not Just For “Athletes”

No matter what our task at hand is, chances are it’s going to involve sweating. Put that job outside in the heat and exposure to the elements, add in hard hats and Hi-Viz apparel worn over our clothes, and it’s easy to see why the heat is usually on for construction workers.

Some advocate for the use of salt tablets for electrolyte replenishment, however, they only provide two of the electrolytes your body requires—sodium and chloride—but there are others your body needs to work properly. Additionally, they can supply too much sodium and overwhelm the body’s complex mechanism for regulating sodium.


How The Body Cools Itself

  1. The body regulates temperature like a furnace – constantly producing and dispersing heat through various processes
  2. To dissipate heat, arteries and veins near the skin fill up to let heat energy radiate out of the body
  3. Body begins to sweat which cools the skin by evaporation
  4. When the air temperature is close or above normal body temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult
  5. If the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it will store it and the core temperature rises

Keep The Crew Hydrated And Cool

Just like elite athletes, contractors need to keep their hardworking bodies hydrated, and preventing electrolyte loss is better than treating it after cramps or other symptoms have had a chance to set in. It’s worth emphasizing in the next safety meeting just how important replenishing electrolytes is for worker health, safety and productivity.

In addition to internal hydration, it’s important to keep our bodies cool on the outside while we work. From bandanas and wrist bands to head and neck coverings, there are a lot of effective apparel options we can use to keep our core temperatures down on really hot days.

Illustration courtesy of Ergodyne

Evaporative and Absorptive cooling gear can make a huge difference. Evaporative vests  work by soaking with water then wringing it out before wearing. Dry Evaporative vests are water filled and can continue cooling up to 3 days before having to refill.

Ergodyne has recently expanded its Chill-Its® line of cooling products, which includes multi-bands, skull caps and bandanas. These things really live up to their name and provide relief in hot environments.

On your jobsites make sure to set up shade areas with popups or E-Z Ups and provide a hydration station with some options. 5 or 10 gal. igloo coolers, cases of water with electrolyte packets, frozen Sqwincher Squeeze® Pops, etc, are always great ideas.

For more info on the importance of Electrolytes and Hydration:

https://www.thedailymba.com/2016/12/21/infograph-why-hydration-is-essential-for-your-employees/
https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/5-hydration-dos-and-donts#1

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