What if you knew 1 in 2 of the colleagues in your workplace routinely came to work daily with health impairments equivalent to a 0.08% blood alcohol level (BAC)? Concerning? Absolutely.
Recently, researchers from Loughborough University in the UK revealed that mild dehydration can result in serious physical and mental impairment equivalent up to a 0.08% BAC. In fact, during the study, participants made twice as many mistakes even while mildly dehydrated.
For workplaces, particularly in high risk industries, this study is alarming!
Dehydrated workers experience:
- Decreased cognitive abilities
- Reduced concentration and alertness
- Slower reaction times
Not to mention the potential risk of heat stress related symptoms such as:
- Fainting on the job
- Extreme migraines
In simple terms, dehydrated employees are less productive and more prone to workplace injury.
A High Percent of Dehydration means Low Work Productivity
Workplaces globally are recognising that employee health risks are as important to effectively manage as the physical, more obvious, safety risks in the workplace. Although often unseen, health risks have been proven to have a significant impact on the safety performance of an organisation, including employee dehydration.
In fact, a recent study revealed that just a single percentage drop in an employee’s hydration level (i.e.. a 1% decrease in a 90 kg make is equivalent to 900 ml. Note we typically sweat 1-2 litre per hour during moderate exercise) could lead to a 12% productivity decrease.
Importance of Proper Hydration
Understandably, workplaces are now recognising drugs and alcohol are no longer the only fitness for work risks present in the workplace. Employers now recognise dehydration as a major fitness for work concern and are looking closely as to what they can do to ensure they minimise the risk levels of their employees and ensure productivity is maintained.
Controlling dehydration and heat stress risks is not as simple as following the standard hierarchy of control we all use in the industry to manage risk. Managing employee dehydration is often more about worker education and monitoring than traditional engineering controls.
Who are at Risk?
Higher risk industries such as mining and oil and gas implement rigid employee monitoring and control programs to decrease the risk. These include:
- Environmental monitoring of the basic temperature parameters
- Training programs
- Employee urine testing conducted by a site nurse
Employee urine testing involves workers providing a urine sample and then being individually monitored for their hydration range and if necessary being directed to take action by the test administrator, often a site nurse (i.e. severely dehydrated – attend the medical centre immediately for further evaluation).
Employee engagement has typically been the main barrier to effective dehydration prevention monitoring and training. Employees are typically trained to self-monitor through the colour of their urine and to hydrate based on this.
This method had been shown to be ineffective due to the subjectivity of the nature of the colour of the urine and therefore employees continue to remain at risk.
In more recent times, technological advances have allowed employees to self-monitor their hydration levels with greater accuracy and receive real time hydration ‘tips’ on the amount to drink on varying parameters. These highly engaging tools also provide for greater accuracy in analysing dehydration risks in the workplace through newly developed software.
Why do we need Smart Urinals?
Enter smart urinals. One such tool, Hydralert, was conceived in 2013 by a team of occupational health professionals and Flinders University.
The two groups identified that if employees could be engaged through gamification principles via self-testing technology, then it would improve their individual drinking behaviours dramatically.
The Hydralert technology consists of a small disc the size of a hockey puck and an iPhone sized screen.
How Hydralert works?
- The disc is placed in the bottom of the urinal and the screen mounted at approximately the user’s line of sight.
- As the user urinates onto the disc their individual hydration result, the amount to drink based on scientific calculation, and a safety message is displayed via Bluetooth on the smart screen.
- The employer can then download all results from the device and analyse the work groups hydration risk via Hydralerts software.
- Date, time of sample, location and environmental parameters at the time of testing can all be extracted from the device.
The Hydralert technology engages workers through real time, convenient testing as required. Although currently only available to the male market, Hydralert is currently engineering a unisex device that is placed in a toilet so that both sexes can benefit from this technology.
It is Best to Know your Hydration Status
Technology such as Hydralert can be used to engage employees far more effectively to empower workers to monitor their individual hydration risk levels whilst also giving employers the opportunity to manage and monitor large volumes of hydration data across the workforce in order to classify risk and implement controls.
Dehydration risks are becoming increasingly apparent in the workplace and being recognised as a fitness for work risk. In order to effectively assess and control dehydration amongst employees, new technology is available to engage employees.
The first step employers should take in order to prevent dehydration is to ensure employees are aware and self-monitoring in order to stem the tide before dehydration sets in and subsequently heat stress impacts the workforce.
The challenge is effectively engaging employees to do so!