Teaming Up Against Heat Hazards
Increased water breaks will increase employees' performance. Employees need to be alert not only for their own safety, but for the safety of their co-workers, as well.
- By Nancy Trent
- Jun 01, 2015
There's no denying it: Water is essential to our survival. For employers, it's mandatory to provide employees with safe and clean drinking water, as well as to ensure employees receive adequate time to drink it. Whether in an office setting or outdoors, water consumption is beneficial to all employees.
As the Occupational Health and Safety Administration states, "The employer shall provide potable drinking water in amounts that are adequate to meet the health and personal needs of each employee." Water isn't just for quenching your thirst—it is essential to the body, providing support to bodily functions. Water balances body fluids through digestion, circulation, and the transporting of nutrients, while also maintaining one's body temperature. Cells that don't maintain their balance of fluids and electrolytes shrivel, which can result in muscle fatigue.
The recommended daily intake of water set by The Institute of Medicine is 13 cups for men and 9 cups for women. In 2013, researchers discovered that people who drank at least one pint of water before carrying out mental tasks had better reaction times—about 14 percent faster than reaction times of those who did not.
A great way to keep track of how much water you are drinking throughout the day is drinking out of a Pyrex cup which features measuring lines to show your progress. During the warmer months, it's especially important to ensure an employee is drinking enough water throughout the day. Heat stress and heat stroke are two of the most common injuries workers can endure on the job and are easily avoided by merely taking a few minutes out of the day for a glass of water.
Health Effects of Inadequate Water Intake
Sodas and juices contain additive properties that will not nourish your body as well as water. In fact, their ingredients can actually work against you.
There are many side effects of inadequate water intake. Perhaps some of the most hazardous to one's health are fatigue, headaches, and muscle cramps. All three have the potential to lead to serious injury on the job. Symptoms of dehydration can escalate quickly, starting with dry mouth, bad breath, headaches, and dizziness. If water deprivation continues, some harmful side effects can include rapid heart rate, confusion, and a seizure. In many fields of work, employees need to be alert not only for their own safety, but for the safety of their co-workers, as well. It is especially important to provide enough water and time for breaks—more important than the actual job at hand.
The Importance of Water Quality
Some tap water systems have been known to cause waterborne illnesses due to the various amounts of bacteria found within. Common strains include E. coli, cholera, salmonella, and protozoa. Having proper water filtration is the best way to prevent drinking contaminated water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the many ways establishments disinfect their water is by using chlorine, which protects drinking water from disease-causing organisms or pathogens. While some use it to reduce the risk of infectious diseases, there is some speculation that it may lead to cancer with long-term use. Disinfection practices such as chlorination are complicated due to the fact that certain microbial pathogens, such as Cryptosporidium, are highly resistant to chlorine and other disinfection practices. Additionally, the chemicals used to disinfect water also can react negatively with the bacteria in the water to form acids and other dangerous compounds.
Alternative Measures for Clean Water
More and more corporations are opting for technological water systems that require less maintenance while safely providing water to multiple people at a time. Advanced filtration systems provide safe, clean water to businesses and homes worldwide. Accupure is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation and works to improve the taste of water while removing odors and contaminants in every cup. In addition to Activated Carbon Filtration, their other method for providing potable water is Reverse Osmosis Filtration, which uses a semi-permeable membrane to divert dissolved minerals, salts, metals, and other impurities. Culligan water systems are EPA Energy Star certified and not only save companies on cost, but also benefit the environment. Their bottle-less water coolers can help achieve a company’s green initiatives by saving on waste and energy.
Providing employees with a safe environment is only half of the job. The average American works more than the set standard of 40 hours. Providing a safe and clean water system is important so employees take care of themselves and their families. As more and more new technologies continue to develop, the standard for quality water systems will continue to rise and ideally provide more people with safe and clean drinking water. Within the next few years, it's expected that corporations will have phased out vending machines that house junk food and high-sugar beverages for more suitable choices.
The more hydrated employees are, the more efficiently they can perform. Investing in a quality water filtration is essential for running a successful company.
Heat Illness Standards
California and Washington state have enacted their own heat illness standards. Heat illness prevention falls under federal OSHA's General Duty Clause.
- California's standard requires that employers train their employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention; provide enough fresh water so each employee can drink at least one quart per hour and encourage them to do so; provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes; and develop and implement written procedures for complying with the standard. It applies to all outdoor places of employment, and additional requirements in high heat apply to agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation and delivery of agricultural products and of construction and other heavy materials. Amendments that took effect May 1, 2015, say that employees shall have access to potable drinking water that is "fresh, pure, suitably cool, and provided to employees free of charge [and] the water shall be located as close as practicable to the areas where employees are working." The amendments state that shade shall be required when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees F, and the amount of shade available shall be at least enough to accommodate 25 percent of the number of employees on the shift at any time for recovery and rest periods.
- The Washington state Department of Labor & Industries' Outdoor Heat Exposure Rule, WAC 296-62-095, applies each year from May 1 through Sept. 30 to all employers with employees performing work outdoors when exposures are at or above a specific temperature. The action level is 52 degrees F when employees are required to wear non-breathing clothes, including vapor barrier clothing or PPE such as chemical-resistant suits; 77 degrees F when employees are required to wear double-layer woven clothes, including coveralls, jackets, and sweatshirts; and 89 degrees F for employees wearing any other type of clothing. The standard doesn't apply to incidental exposures. It specifies that employers must ensure a sufficient quantity of drinking water is readily accessible to workers at all times, and that they must ensure all employees have the opportunity to drink at least one quart of drinking water per hour.The standard says drinking water packaged as a consumer product and electrolyte-replenishing beverages that do not contain caffeine are acceptable.
- The General Duty Clause is Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It states that employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment "free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees." This includes heat-related hazards that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, according to OSHA.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.