Staying Hydrated on the Job Site in the Summer Months

Guidelines to keep yourself and your workers safe and productive as the days grow increasingly hotter

Staying Hydrated on the Job Site in the Summer Months

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In physically demanding jobs, hydration is essential to not only worker productivity but also safety. This is especially true in the summer months when the heat index in some places climbs above 100 degrees F. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind for yourself and your workers as we enter the warm-weather months.

OSHA guidelines for staying safe in extreme heat

  • Drink plenty of water — two cups before starting work and then a cup every 15 or 20 minutes.
  • Don't wait until you're really thirsty to drink.
  • Cool water (50 to 60 degrees F) works best because it's more refreshing and workers will be more inclined to drink it.
  • Flavored water (with little to no sugar) is a good option for the same reason.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine or too much sugar.
  • Absolutely no alcohol.

Hydration options

An entire industry has built up around the need for tasty, convenient, personal hydration. In other words, companies have plenty of options when it comes to keeping workers hydrated on the job site:

  • Cooler filled with tap water and ice
  • Bottled water
  • Sports drinks
  • Electrolyte-enriched, water-soluble powders

OSHA says simple tap water is adequate for keeping workers hydrated. But some of these other options do more than just replace water lost to perspiration. The right product using the right formulation will also deliver essential minerals without piling on too much sugar. They'll also taste better. And because workers know you've gone out of your way to provide something tasty and nutritious to drink, they'll probably be appreciative, adding another small element to their company loyalty. 

Companies can look at job site hydration as an area of investment to bolster employee productivity, safety and retention. And since it truly is an investment, companies will also want to settle on something that will provide the best return.

The case for powder mixes

Handing out individual bottles of water or sports drinks might sound like the least complex option. It can get costly, however. It may also be difficult for some employees to keep their bottles with them while they work. It can also be a challenge to keep those beverages cold.

Some sports drink companies also offer powders that mix with water. When mixed properly to the recommended ratio, these companies say their powders provide the same benefits as their liquid counterparts. Some consumers say the powder versions do not taste as good, but others say the taste difference is negligible.

Given that, powders sound like a pretty good option. Here's another reason why: By using a powder mix, the cost per ounce comes down dramatically — perhaps more than double. You just need to supply your own water.

Powder sports drink mixes come in various sizes and quantities. Small packets are designed for individual bottles of water. Larger pouches and bags are designed to make as much as a gallon to several gallons at a time. If you're running a multi-person crew on a job site, it probably makes sense to go bigger, which will help stretch your dollar further.

Sports drink companies aren't the only game in town, though. Several nutrition companies offer specialized product lines geared toward dehydration prevention. Two in particular come to mind: Pedialyte and DripDrop ORS. Each offers powder mixes, while Pedialyte also offers a ready-to-drink liquid. Like the popular sports drinks, these products focus on electrolyte replenishment. Electrolytes are minerals in the body that help balance water and pH levels, move nutrients into your cells, move waste out of your cells, and make sure your nerves and muscles work like they are supposed to. Forget all of that science, though. The bottom line is that when you are low on electrolytes, you can suffer muscle weakness, spasms, cramps and respiratory problems.

By consuming a beverage rich in electrolytes, workers can recover from dehydration symptoms faster. Nutrition companies like Pedialyte and DripDrop say their products have an edge over the typical sports drink. Their products do a better job of striking the optimum balance of sugar and sodium, which allows the body to better absorb fluids and electrolytes. Their products, as compared to sports drinks, are heavier on sodium but lighter on sugar.

Additionally, electrolyte-replenishing powders typically contain several grams of some combination of essential minerals (electrolytes), including potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium and chloride. In combination with beneficial amounts of sugar and sodium, these powders deliver the dehydration-busting cocktail a worker needs to rehydrate and recover.

Watch out for too much sugar

As just mentioned, companies like Pedialyte and DripDrop stress the importance of avoiding too much sugar when combatting dehydration. Remember, OSHA even warns against drinking beverages with too much sugar, as excessive amounts can actually lead to more dehydration.

Consider this:

  • Pedialyte powder packs yield 16 ounces of beverage with roughly 12 grams of sugar.
  • 8 ounces of water dosed with DripDrop contains roughly 7 grams of sugar.
  • Gatorade powder packs yield 20 ounces of beverage with roughly 32 grams of sugar.
  • A bottle of ready-to-drink Gatorade or Powerade has roughly 21 grams of sugar in every 12 ounces.

As you can see, the popular sports drinks have more than 1.5 grams of sugar per ounce, whereas the electrolyte-replenishing powders have less than 1 gram per ounce. Some of the sports drink companies have responded by introducing lower-sugar and even zero-sugar versions of their products. Still, companies should scrutinize product labels for not only sugar content, but also the content of those other essential minerals (electrolytes).

Companies need a plan … and a good cooler

If a company decides that powder mixes make the most sense, it will need a plan for mixing and delivering a drinkable beverage at the job site. Accessibility is of utmost importance.

A rugged, portable, easy-to-use cooler is essential. Various popular brands make insulated coolers that keep ice and beverages cold for hours. Smaller 1-gallon options are great for individual users, while much larger coolers are also available for entire crews to share. Look for features that make the coolers easy to lift and wheel around. Additionally, features that make it easy and sanitary for workers to quickly dispense some beverage into a cup is helpful.

Speaking of cups, that's another component for a company to think about. Some employees may have their own insulated tumblers they can use. But for most of the crew, that probably isn't practical. Disposable paper cups represent a safe, sanitary and cost-effective option. A company may even want to look into a cup dispenser if it has a place to mount it.

The bottom line is that companies must always take heat stress and dehydration seriously. By having a plan in place to make staying hydrated easy, workers will see how seriously you're taking it — and then they will, too.

About the Author

AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 950 companies and 200-plus product lines in the agriculture and construction-related sectors worldwide. AEM has an ownership stake in and manages several world-class exhibitions, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


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