Taste Does the Trick

Thirst quenchers are designed to taste best when you are hot and thirsty. Voluntary consumption is one of the best defenses against dehydration.

Why are heat and humidity such a threat to certain workers, such as those who work outdoors or in foundries?
Leon Wolek, founder of Q-Blast (www.qblast.net, 219-962-1866), a sugar-free performance beverage, and inventor of the "Blast Bag," has worked closely with the South Texas Exploration Production Safety Network (STEPS) to test it: Heat and humidity cause sweating, which is the loss of valuable body fluids from within the body. The rate of loss is related to the air temperature and the intensity of the work, along with environmental conditions, acclimatization state, and your baseline hydration status. The primary mechanism of heat dissipation is evaporation. Evaporation assists in cooling the body core temperature. If the body cannot adequately evaporate sweat from the skin surface, core temperature rises rapidly and negatively compromises performance and increases the risk of heat illness.

Dehydration of 1-2 percent of body weight begins to negatively compromise performance. Dehydration of greater than 3 percent of the body weight increases the worker's risk of developing heat illness.
How do thirst quenchers reduce the risk?

Wolek: Active bodies require fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes to keep a person productive. Thirst quenchers are designed to meet those needs. Preference for taste changes during physical exertion. Thirst quenchers are designed to taste best when you are hot and thirsty. People will consume more of a beverage with flavor, and voluntary consumption is one of the best defenses against dehydration.  
What are the essential ingredients of thirst quenchers that make them effective?

Wolek: Thirst quenchers provide carbohydrates and essential electrolytes. The right carbohydrates in the proper concentration provide energy. The right electrolytes in the proper concentration, along with the carbohydrates, assist in maximizing absorption of fluids into the body for hydration. The physical characteristics of the rehydration beverage, such as color, sweetness, temperature, flavor, etc., can dramatically influence fluid replacement consumption. While individual differences exist, a cool beverage of 50-59 degrees F is recommended because it will make the flavor more palatable and will assist in reducing body core temperature.
How should safety managers monitor a workforce for heat-related illnesses, what symptoms should alert them to a problem, and how should they respond?
Wolek: If you're thirsty, you're already in the beginning stages of dehydration; drink before you're thirsty. Hydration can be monitored with a urine color chart. With this chart, you match the color of your urine to a color on the chart. If your urine matches one of the lighter colors on the chart, you are well hydrated. The darker colors on the chart indicate levels of dehydration, and you need to consume fluids.  
Some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
• Headaches, dizziness, or fainting.
• Weakness and moist skin.
• Severe mood changes.
• Upset stomach.

Some of the symptoms of heat stroke include:
• Dry, hot skin with no sweating.
• Mental confusion.
• Losing consciousness.
• Seizures or convulsions.

Some preventative measures are:
• Know the signs and symptoms.
• Block out direct sun.
• Use cooling fans/air conditioning. 
• Rest regularly.
• Make sure fluids are easily accessible in a sanitary delivery system.
• Drink plenty of fluids.
• Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

How to respond to heat related illness:
• Call 911 (or local emergency number) at once.
While waiting for help to arrive:
• Move the worker to a cool, shaded area.
• Loosen or remove heavy clothing.
• Provide cool drinking water.
• Fan and mist the person with water.
Are some workers, because of health conditions such as diabetes, unable to drink certain thirst quenchers? What’s the solution for them?
Wolek: Some workers with conditions such as diabetes or obesity should consider drinking sugar-free thirst quenchers. They should make sure that the thirst quencher contains the proper type and amount of carbohydrates and the proper type and amount of electrolytes for maximum absorption of fluids for hydration. They should also pay close attention to sodium and potassium levels.

Are thirst quenchers a cost-effective solution for workers exposed to heat? What else can managers do to reduce the risk?
Wolek: If employers take into account the cost of health care and lost employee time due to heat stress or other health-related conditions, it is very cost-effective to offer thirst quenchers to employees. Managers should make sure that the fluid replacement beverages are easily accessible. Something that is often overlooked is how sanitary is the delivery system for your fluid replacement beverages. Many use 5-or 10-gallon coolers; however, it is likely that the individuals replacing the fluids are not properly sanitizing the coolers between refills. There is a "bladder system" that is new to the market that addresses this very issue. It allows you to insert a pre-filled "Blast Bag" (patent pending) into the cooler. Once empty, the bag is replaced, so there is no waste. The products taste is consistent because there is no mixing.

This article originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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