Dehydration is often talked about in terms of its impact on the individual experiencing it but there can be larger ramifications for occupational safety and work productivity. The latest research shows there is cause for concern as a majority of workers studied started their work day without proper hydration.
Focusing on workers from Europe in the fields of manufacturing, agriculture, law enforcement, tourism and construction, researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that seven out of 10 workers are not getting enough water. While they did not study workers in the U.S., it’s possible the results would have been similar.
Researchers from the Pan-European Heat-Shield project used field observations and motor-cognitive testing in a lab to monitor performance. They found the combination of heat stress and failure to maintain water balance had a negative impact on the workers studied.
Researchers were surprised at how widespread the problem was because they believed much attention had been given to the importance of preventing dehydration through health and work safety advisories as well as through media coverage during hot periods.
"The very high prevalence of dehydration was a surprise to us, and the potential influence on cognitive function and motor performance in key industries is quite problematic, because it markedly increases the risk of making mistakes and therefore threatens both safety and productivity," says professor Lars Nybo from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at University of Copenhagen, and project coordinator for Heat-Shield.
The study findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE and detail how the Heat-Shield project assessed the hydration status of 139 workers in Denmark, Cyprus, Greece and Spain. They were checked before and after work shifts.
In addition to the health danger of the individual, there is a fear impaired cognitive and motor task performance is a threat to productivity and safety as many occupations rely on the ability to focus on tasks and react to occupational challenges. Study organizers believe better education and more effective strategies need to be implemented to reduce dehydration and minimize its negative effects on performance and safety.
"This is already a problem under the current conditions,” said researcher Andreas Flouris. “However, facing a future with more frequent heat waves it is of utmost importance for workers to adopt better hydration habits and for companies to develop effective hydration strategies."