Business & compliance advice

Hydration in the workplace.

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
18th March 2022

As a leading Health and Safety training provider, we champion workplace wellbeing. To mark Nutrition and Hydration week 2022, Phoenix spoke to Health & Nutrition Expert Becki Hawkins for some top tips on keeping quenched in the workplace.

The importance of hydration should never be underestimated. It is a fundamental pillar to keep a workforce functioning safely, whether it is manual handling, COSHH or Working at Height. However, if basic physiological requirements such as hydration are not being met effectively, every system and process in the body will be affected. People will be unable to perform tasks optimally, which could risk a rise in poor health, sick days, and accidents at work1. Delegates cover many industry practices, including the health and wellbeing of employees, in the NEBOSH National General Certificate.

Alertness, concentration, and reaction speed are all relevant, and in certain occupations, a slip in any of these could have fatal consequences. When you start to feel thirsty - you’re already around 3-4% dehydrated. Studies have shown that even this small amount can have a significant impact on performance in certain industries2.

If we’re managing our fluid intake well, our cells are optimally hydrated, and our blood volume, circulation and oxygen carriage around the body will be working at full capacity. Nutrient distribution around the body will be maximised and mental health, energy and precision of every physical process will peak.

Symptoms of dehydration can include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and muscle cramps3, none of which will be conducive to occupational performance.

Several factors can influence hydration status and fluid needs. Age, gender, and body mass are relevant, but also exogenous factors can be key determinants too4. If you work in a warm environment, undergo strenuous physical labour, or wear a lot of PPE your perspiration rate and fluid loss will be higher, which impacts the amount of fluid you need to take in to balance this.

There are simple ways to self-monitor hydration levels including checking the colour of your urine. In most cases, the lighter the colour of urine, the better hydrated you are. Dark, strong-smelling urine suggests dehydration. You can download free urine colour charts that may be a useful resource to display in staff toilets5.

The generally accepted guidelines are, that we should aim to drink 8 - 10 x 250ml glasses of water-based fluids per day (2 - 2.5 litres)6, 7, 8 You can calculate this a little more technically based on energy (kcal) expenditure. Every calorie you burn requires 1 ml of water9. This brings a large variance. For example, an active male with a manual role in construction or manufacturing could be expending around 4000kcal / day, meaning their fluid requirement would be closer to 4 litres.

On workplace premises, sufficient provisions to make water available for employees must be in place, as set out by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Contact your company’s HR or Occupational Health professional for more information.

Beyond this, here are ten top health hacks to help hydration:

  1. Drink to prevent the feeling of thirst rather than in response to it.
  2. Where possible, sip fluids regularly rather than gulping down litres in one go.
  3. Don’t rely on drinks high in caffeine or sugar for hydration. Stimulants can alter how your body absorbs or retains the fluid so avoid reliance on tea, coffee and energy drinks for hydration.
  4. Alcohol is a strong diuretic. It encourages your body to expel water & dehydrates you. Limit alcohol intake and drink an extra glass of water for every alcoholic drink.
  5. Vary fluid intake to increase appeal. Still or sparkling, hot or cold, diluted juices and herbal / fruit teas can all count towards water intake.
  6. Use a water infuser bottle to add natural flavours from fruits/spices and botanicals. e.g. citrus, berries, mint and ginger all work well.
  7. Become best friends with your water bottle. Where possible have it to hand and insight as much as possible to remind you to keep drinking throughout the day.
  8. If you forget to drink, set yourself reminder alarms on your phone or mark timelines on your water bottle and aim to drink down to that line by various points throughout the day.
  9. Drink more when undertaking physical tasks or in warmer conditions as your fluid loss will rise.
  10. Eat foods with high water content as part of a healthy diet. Cucumber, tomatoes, melon, and broccoli are all made of 90% + water10. So whilst we shouldn’t rely on food for hydration, instead of drinking water, it can certainly contribute.

So, the take-home message is to drink regularly throughout the working day and avoid the feeling of thirst. Tailor your intake to your individual needs and plan hydration strategies to meet these needs. As an employer or employee, hydration is an imperative part of health and safety in the workplace.