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Dehydration: Not Just a Hot Weather Hazard
Hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot aren’t the only seasonal risks Laborers can face when working in cold weather. Dehydration, a condition usually associated with the summer, is also a concern. If your job requires you to be bundled up against winter’s chill or if you spend time indoors where the heat is turned on and the air is hot and dry, you are at risk for dehydration. In these conditions, drinking water and incorporating other fluids into your diet is as essential to protecting your health as it is during t-shirt weather.
The Importance of Water
Your body is sixty percent water and every system in it needs water to function. Water aids digestion, transports nutrients, flushes toxins and regulates body temperature. It also keeps tissues moist and lubricates joints. When your body is short on water, it doesn’t work as it should.
Through breathing, perspiring and urinating, the average person loses between two to three quarts of water (8 to 12 cups) every day. Engaging in strenuous activities like physically demanding construction tasks or wearing personal protective equipment like Tyvek suits and respirators can lead to even greater water loss. Thirst, which is triggered by fluid loss, encourages people to drink, but by the time you feel thirsty, you are already experiencing some degree of dehydration.
Dehydration in Cold Weather
“One of the biggest risks of cold weather is that its effects can sneak up on and fool the body,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Even though they may be sweating from wearing heavy clothing or engaging in activities like shoveling snow, people are generally less thirsty in cold weather. Without that signal that they need to drink, people are less likely to consume the amount of water they need to stay hydrated. They might not be losing as much water as they would on a hot summer day, but they are also not replacing what they are losing.”
Stay Hydrated in Cold Weather
OSHA requires employers to provide drinking water at jobsites. Laborers should:
- Drink plenty of water during the workday.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables at meals and as snacks.
- Drink caffeinated beverages in moderation as caffeine can contribute to becoming dehydrated.
- Create mini goals for water consumption (e.g., drink one bottle by 10 a.m., second bottle by 12 p.m., etc.).
- Keep track of how many bottles of water have been consumed throughout the day.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe and include:
- Increased thirst
- Dry mouth and swollen tongue
- Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
- Inability to sweat
- Decreased urine output
Keep in mind however, that many alternatives to water can also negatively affect health and should be consumed in moderation. For example, the caffeine in coffee, tea and sodas is a diuretic and can contribute to fluid loss. Sport drinks and regular sodas are full of added sugars and sodium which can contribute to weight gain, tooth decay and high blood pressure. Regular sodas and diet sodas have also been linked to bone loss.
Instead, eat fruits and vegetables that are high in water content and also provide other benefits such as vitamins and proteins. The Cooperative Extension Service from the University of Kentucky created a list of fruits and vegetables that are good for helping you stay hydrated. Go to www2.ca.uky.edu/enri/pubs/enri129.pdf.
The LHSFNA has developed a number of materials that focus on staying healthy during cold weather. Order them by going to the Fund’s website at www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]