What Everyone Should Know About How Winter Dehydration Puts Worker Health and Safety at Risk
We all know that proper hydration is essential for good health—and for worker safety. But while the risks of dehydration may be top-of-mind during the hot months of summer, they can easily be overlooked during the cooler months of the year.
What makes this so troubling is that the risks of dehydration can actually increase in winter. Surprised? Here are five reasons why cold weather and fluid loss often go hand-in-hand:
- You don’t feel as thirsty when you’re cold. One study found that exposure to the cold can decrease thirst by up to 40 percent. And when you don’t feel thirsty, you’re less likely to drink the fluids you need to stay hydrated.
- Your body doesn’t conserve water as well when you’re cold. When you’re cold, your blood vessels shrink. This helps your body conserve heat by drawing blood to its core. Unfortunately, your kidneys respond by eliminating fluid in order to reduce blood pressure, increasing your risk of dehydration.[i]
- You lose more moisture in cold, dry air. Dry winter air sucks up moisture from your skin, nose, and mouth. It also causes sweat to quickly evaporate.[ii]
- Your body works harder—and therefore sweats more—under the weight of all those heavy winter clothes. Long underwear, thick layers, and heavy coats help keep us warm in winter, but they also cause our bodies to work harder and sweat more, contributing to an increased loss of fluids.[iii]
- You’re more likely to miss the signs of dehydration in the winter. Since most of us don’t associate dehydration with cold weather, we don’t take as many precautions as we do in summer and we sometimes overlook critical warning signs.
Winter dehydration can have serious effects on worker safety and productivity. Even mild dehydration can cause dizziness, vomiting, exhaustion, muscle fatigue, cramps, and loss of coordination. What’s more, winter dehydration reduces mucus production, which can increase vulnerability to colds, sinus infections, and flu.[iv]
The good news is that winter dehydration is easily preventable. Here are four simple steps you can take to ensure your workforce remains healthy, happy, and hydrated this winter:
- Provide frequent hydration breaks in warm areas. Keep hot and cold beverages available and easily accessible to workers at all times. Encourage workers to drink small amounts frequently throughout the day. (Be sure beverages are decaffeinated and nonalcoholic; caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, meaning they cause more water loss through urine.)[v]
- Provide water-based foods to workers as on-the-job snacks. Food can account for as much as 20 percent of our daily water intake. Many fruits and vegetables are at least 75 percent water, such as those listed in this chart.
- Train supervisors and safety officials on the risks and warning signs of cold-weather dehydration. Proper hydration is a key component of worker safety and productivity and should be a top priority throughout the year—especially in winter.
- Educate workers about winter dehydration. Teach people how to prevent dehydration both on and off the job. Encourage them to watch out for symptoms of dehydration in themselves and others, even when they least expect it (such as when working in cold conditions).
Cold-weather dehydration can easily go unrecognized and unaddressed. But with a few simple steps, you can keep your workers’ health, safety, and productivity at their peak throughout the year.
Sources:[i] https://www.healthline.com/health/diuresis#outlook [ii] https://www.webmd.com/women/dry-indoor-air#1 [iii] https://www.ithacajournal.com/story/news/2016/11/16/dehydration-risk-even-during-winter/93989536/ [iv] https://www.webmd.com/women/dry-indoor-air#1 [v] https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/heat.html