Some days are just better than other. You feel better, have more energy, think more clearly and don't sweat the small stuff. We've all had days like that and we'd like to have more.
What creates the positive feeling that leads to a super day? It's probably mostly our attitude, maybe a good night's sleep or a positive occurrence early in the day that sets the tone for the ensuing hours. You feel like you can conquer the world, and, generally, you can! Enhanced performance comes easy on those days.
There's a growing body of evidence that strongly suggests that one of the more significant contributors to our “good days” is our personal state of hydration. Our challenge as managers is to understand that dehydration has few apparent symptoms. Diminished performance may be the first clue of dehydration, but it might be attributed to other causes.
Assuring that you and your employees understand the personal signs of dehydration and the effects it can have on performance and safety is vital to maintaining a productive work force. By making hydration facilities accessible to everyone during their work day, you are providing an essential tool for health maintenance. To paraphrase an old saying, “Lead your employees to water and urge them to drink!”
WHAT IS DEHYDRATION?
The human body is nearly 60 percent water by weight. That means a 180-pound person would consist of 108 pounds in water weight alone. This is a remarkable amount of water and losing just a small amount can have devastating effects. Dehydration occurs when a person takes in substantially less fluid than they have lost. An average of 2.5 liters of water is lost each day just through normal body processes.
Typically, water is lost through urination, respiration and sweating. Fluid loss can be amplified if health issues result in vomiting or diarrhea. In these cases, dehydration likely will occur because fluids usually are not replenished right away. A big problem with dehydration is that it can occur without us being aware.
If you are feeling thirsty, you likely already are in some state of dehydration. The thirst sensation often becomes apparent after you have reached a dehydrated condition. So while thirst is an indicator that you need to drink something, it is possible you already are somewhat dehydrated.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE BECOME DEHYDRATED?
Studies have shown that dehydration can have a major impact on physical and mental performance. There is substantial data that suggests even mild cases of dehydration can have a significant impact on cognitive and physical ability. It is believed that a loss of 2 to 3 percent of total body water can result in as much as a 20 percent decrease in energy levels. It also has been shown that dehydration can be directly correlated to a diminished ability to concentrate.
Concentration in the workplace is paramount, especially in jobs where people are working in dangerous environments or with potentially dangerous tools. Recent studies have shown that as we become dehydrated, our ability to focus diminishes, memorization becomes more difficult and hand-eye coordination decreases. It is not difficult to see how debilitating dehydration can be on workers.
Another detrimental effect of dehydration is that of perceived effort. Perceived effort is the effort that a worker feels it takes to perform a given task. In states of dehydration, perceived effort increases. This means that two workers can perform the same tasks, but the one who is dehydrated will perceive the work to be much more arduous than the person who is well hydrated. This perceived effort could lead to over-exertion and, in thermally challenging environments, possible heat-related illness. This can have significant implications in the workplace.
It is imperative that we safeguard our employees by giving them adequate access to clean, pure water. The signs of dehydration can be fairly evident if we know what we are looking for and which questions to ask. The signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
- Feeling irritated
- Having a dry mouth or feeling thirsty
- Dry or cracked lips
- Feeling intolerant of heat
- Flushed skin
- Medium-to-dark urination
- Light headedness
- Dry skin
IF A WORKER IS DEHYDRATED
If you suspect a worker is dehydrated, the first thing is to get him or her some water immediately and then seek professional help. In severe cases, oral rehydration therapy (ORT) and intravenous fluids are used in rehydrating patients.
A medical practitioner must perform this treatment. The medical treatment for rehydration is very individual and specific to the person being treated. It is best to give the dehydrated person some water to quench thirst and then seek a medical professional to determine the proper course of action.
There is emerging research in the area of potential long-term health effects of chronic dehydration. Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, an alternative health care practitioner and author of Your Body's Many Cries for Water, believed dehydration can lead to an increased risk of chronic health problems including diabetes, stroke, gallstones, kidney and bladder stones, heart disease, cancer, thrombosis, urinary tract infections and periodontal diseases.
There is no question that water is essential for life. Doctors will tell you that drinking enough water is not only good for your health, but has other ancillary benefits as well. As they say, “An ounce of prevention goes a long way.”
PREVENTION IS THE BEST MEDICINE
Giving employees easy access to water is the key to keeping them hydrated. If water is plentiful and accessible, they will be more likely to utilize the resources and stay hydrated. Off-site workers or those in remote locations need not go thirsty. There are many opportunities for offering a continual water source that these employees will utilize. Here is a set of best practices you may want to consider:
Keep large jugs of water and ice readily available.
Ensure that the water is fresh, well-filtered and tastes good.
Ensure that water jugs are cleaned often to prevent bacterial growth.
Advise employees to drink water often, before work shifts, during breaks and whenever thirsty.
Encourage employees to bring their own water bottle to work, or provide them with one.
Provide ample restroom facilities to encourage continual hydration.
Create an education plan to remind your employees to get hydrated and stay hydrated. Inform personnel of the danger signs of dehydration and have them work in a buddy system in order to provide support.
Make hydration a habit and lead by example.
It's estimated that 80 percent of the adult population in the United States gos through their day somewhat dehydrated. One can assume that any decrease in performance related to dehydration is proportionate to the degree of dehydration. An investment of time in education and providing adequate drinking facilities is an inexpensive way to enhance the performance of your team!
Lynice Anderson is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified specialist in sports dietetics. She has worked for Renown Health in Reno, Nevada for over 15 years and currently supervises daily operations in Health Management Services, an outpatient prevention and disease management department. She has a strong personal and professional interest in the role of nutrition and exercise in both disease prevention and management and enjoys educating clients on all aspects of nutrition and lifestyle intervention.