First Aid 101: Dehydration in the Workplace

Dehydration is one of the common risks faced by people who work in hot and humid working environments. It is characterised by the excessive loss of fluid and electrolytes from the body. If the condition continues, the affected person may suffer from complications that can range from simple muscle cramps to severe heat stroke. If these conditions occur, it is important that medical attention be provided as soon as possible. However, if medical personnel aren’t yet available, first aid treatments should be administered.

Know the Symptoms First

Before any treatment or medical attention is provided to someone you suspect is suffering from dehydration in your workplace, it is important that you properly recognise the different symptoms of such a condition. This is to assess its severity and to allow you to administer the right treatment.

–  According to Mayo Clinic, the signs for mild to moderate dehydration include light-headedness, thirst, yellowish urine, decreased urine output, dry mouth and lips, and reduced amount of sweat (from the usual heavy sweating).  A dehydrated person’s muscles may also feel weaker than usual, which will result in a feeling of sleepiness. Another sign of dehydration in the workplace is irritability or agitation.

The symptoms of severe dehydration, on the other hand, are more serious than the signs of mild to moderate dehydration. These include intense thirst, extreme irritability and confusion, little or no urination, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, rapid breathing, fever, dark-coloured urine and rapid or increased heart rate. A person suffering from severe dehydration may also have  shrivelled looking and very dry skin, without its usual elasticity. In very serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness may also occur.

First Aid for Mild Dehydration

While mild or moderate dehydration may not be considered a life threatening emergency, it is still important to provide proper care to the victim to avoid worsening the situation. When symptoms start to show, let the worker rest in a cool and well-ventilated area. Make sure that the patient is away from direct sunlight, or any source of heat.
Replace lost body fluid by giving water in small amounts, or better yet, give an electrolyte-formulated beverage to  help replace important minerals. Once symptoms are alleviated, seek professional medical help, if it is deemed needed. For a mild dehydration case, it is also advised that after first aid is administered, that the victim continues to rest at home for the remainder of the shift. This is to ensure that the person is well rested and will be back at work the next day, recuperated and reenergized.

First Aid for Severe Dehydration

If signs of severe dehydration are evident in a person in your workplace, call for professional medical help as soon as possible. This is an emergency condition which can cause further complications if not treated immediately. Not getting the victim the help they need may result in a coma or even death.

While waiting for the emergency medical personnel to arrive, the victim should be moved to a cool area. Have him or her lie down. This is to avoid further increase in body heat, and to prevent fainting. Next, apply cool and wet cloths to the critical areas of the victim’s body. These include the wrist, collarbone, armpits, inner thighs, neck and face. This will help cool down the body further to avoid the possibility of heat stroke. Most importantly, rehydrate the victim by giving sips of an electrolyte drink. Avoid any huge intake of fluids all at once to avoid vomiting.

Proper hydration is a very important step to take in preventing dehydration in the workplace. Always remember that thirst, or the urge to drink, is not a reliable indication that your body need water. Thus, you should always drink water or an electrolyte beverage whenever possible, to prevent dehydration from ever happening.

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