HSE Manager: On site dehydration, heat stress and hyponatremia a serious issue
A safety manager working on a major construction project in the northwest of Western Australia has stressed the importance of worker hydration, heat stress management and education.
Freo Group HSE Manager Warwick Roe discussed how hydration and heat stress are a serious issue on site.
Warwick emphasised the importance of electrolytes in preventing the potentially deadly condition of hyponatremia, resulting from the overconsumption of water which dilutes blood sodium levels.
“We did have a case of hyponatremia last summer and other companies working on site also had a few cases.”
Speaking of the 2015 incident, Warwick said the affected worker had been working in extremely hot conditions and had drunk around 10 litres of water throughout the day. He had also not eaten much food which is not uncommon in hot conditions.
“He was feeling tired at the end of the day. He got back to camp and had a shower and started feeling really cold.”
“He thought he was getting a bit of a virus so he put himself to bed where he started having serious cold sweats.”
“Fortunately he rang the medical centre in camp and they were able to come and get him. He was in quite a bad way and required urgent medical attention. They kept him there for 24 hours on an IV to get him back on track.”
The post incident investigation found the man could not quench his thirst.
“No matter how much he was drinking he was still thirsty and that is a key indicator that something is not right,” Warwick said, adding that the onset of hyponatremia is not easy to detect.
“The trap for the guys is that they might be drinking lots of water and doing the right thing but over hydration can easily creep in. It is important to keep the balance of the electrolytes.”
Heat stress is another issue on the Freo site, according to Warwick, who discussed how workers with poor diet and physical fitness are most at risk, as are those at the beginning of a swing.
He said that training and education is critical to managing the risks and discussed how implementing THORZT’s scientific-backed hydration management program has been embraced by workers.
“We’ve been running it for over two years now and it’s a great program.”
“It comes in at an angle that tries to understand what the industry is about and the needs of the workers themselves. That is why it fits so well.”
“For me it gives scientific validation of the process and it has better depth of meaning than what other companies are offering.”
Warwick also discussed how having THORZT’s hydration and heat stress education delivered by professional athletes resonates with workers.
“A lot of the guys working here partake in sports gyms and they receive information from THORZT relevant beyond their workplace,” he said, giving the example of those workers who were over-consuming protein learning how this was having a dehydrating effect.
“The THORZT program helped educate them that they were not giving themselves the best chance they could to succeed.”
Improved hydration program engagement has included widespread acceptance of urine specific gravity (USG) hydration testing, according to Warwick.
“We test three times a day throughout the whole year. We test pre-start as a benchmark, at morning tea and again after lunch,” he said adding that they have urine colour charts in all bathrooms.
Workers who were not adequately hydrated are unable to commence work if they are considered to be in an “at risk” situation.
“We will hold them in a crib area where they onboard some liquids and electrolytes until they show definite signs of improvement.”
The THORZT program then allows management to track, monitor and provide feedback to the workforce.
“The web-based database provides readily available info based on the specific user and workgroups while workers can see all the samples they are taking aren’t just going into the void, never to be seen again.”
The success of hydration testing and THORZT’s education program means Freo Group will be ramping up the program coming into the warmer months, according to Warwick.
“It is voluntary through the winter months but now it is getting warmer we will package it as part of the fitness for work requirements.”
He added that as well as drinking the correct fluids, other hydration and heat stress offerings like electrolyte Icy Poles and cooling products also played a part in reducing heat stress on sites.
“The THORZT Icy Poles are an excellent product, particularly the packaging. Feedback from the guys is that they are really easy to use,” Warwick said.
“We provide them two or three times a day in each of the work areas during very hot conditions,” he said, adding that the cooling chamois and vests are also useful in very hot environments.
“They are especially good when guys are working in a cargo hold or on the deck of a ship where it is basically like working inside an oven.”