In physically demanding jobs like construction, hydration is essential to not only worker productivity, but also safety. This is especially the case when the heat index climbs above the 103°F mark.
OSHA Guidelines to Stay Safe in Extreme Heat
- Drink plenty of water — two cups before starting work, and then a cup every 15 or 20 minutes
- Don't wait until you're really thirsty to drink
- Cool water (50-60°F) works best because it's more refreshing and workers will be more inclined to drink it
- Flavored water (with little to no sugar) is a good option for the same reason
- Avoid drinks with caffeine or too much sugar
- Absolutely no alcohol
What Hydrating Options Do Construction Companies Have?
An entire industry has built up around the need for tasty, convenient, personal hydration. In other words, construction companies have options when it comes to keeping workers hydrated on the jobsite:
- Cooler filled with tap water and ice
- Bottled water
- Sports drinks
- Electrolyte-enriched, water-soluble powders
OSHA says simple tap water is adequate to help keep workers hydrated. But some of these other options do more than just replace water lost to perspiration. The right product using the right formulation will also deliver essential minerals — without piling on too much sugar. They'll also taste better. And because workers know you've gone out of your way to provide something tasty and nutritious to drink, they'll probably be appreciative and become more loyal.
Construction companies can look at jobsite hydration as an area of investment to bolster employee productivity, safety and retention. And since it truly is an investment, companies will also want to settle on something that will provide the best return.
The Case for Powder Mixes
Handing out individual bottles of water or sports drinks might sound like the least complex option. It can get costly, however. It may also be difficult for some employees to keep their bottles with them while they work. It can also be a challenge to keep those beverages cold.
Some of the sports drink companies also offer powders that mix with water. When mixed properly to the recommended ratio, these companies say their powders provide the same benefits as their liquid counterparts. Some consumers say the powder versions do not taste as good, but others say the taste difference is negligible.
Given that, powders sound like a pretty good option for a construction company. Here's another reason why. By using a powder mix, cost per ounce comes down dramatically — perhaps more than double. You just need to supply your own water.
Powder sports drink mixes come in various sizes and quantities. Small packets are designed for individual bottles of water. Larger pouches and bags are designed to make as much as a gallon to several gallons at a time. If you're running a multi-person crew on a jobsite, it probably makes sense to go bigger, which will help stretch your dollar further.
Sports drink companies aren't the only game in town, though. Several nutrition companies offer specialized product lines geared toward dehydration prevention. Two in particular come to mind: Pedialyte and DripDrop ORS. Each offers powder mixes, while Pedialyte also offers a ready-to-drink liquid.
Like the popular sports drinks, these products focus on electrolyte replenishment. Electrolytes are minerals in the body that help balance water and pH levels, move nutrients into your cells, move waste out of your cells, and make sure your nerves and muscles work like they are supposed to. Forget all of that science, though. The bottom line is that when you are low on electrolytes, you can suffer muscle weakness, spasms, cramps and respiratory problems.
By consuming a beverage rich in electrolytes, construction workers can recover from dehydration symptoms faster. Nutrition companies like Pedialyte and DripDrop say their products have an edge over the typical sports drink. Their products do a better job of striking the optimum balance of sugar and sodium, which allows the body to better absorb fluids and electrolytes. Their products, as compared to sports drinks, are heavier on sodium but lighter on sugar.
Additionally, electrolyte-replenishing powders typically contain several grams of some combination of essential minerals (electrolytes), including potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium and chloride. In combination with beneficial amounts of sugar and sodium, these powders deliver the dehydration-busting cocktail a construction worker needs to rehydrate and recover.
Watch Out for Too Much Sugar
As just mentioned, companies like Pedialyte and DripDrop stress the importance of avoiding too much sugar when combatting dehydration. Remember, OSHA even warns against drinking beverages with too much sugar, as excessive amounts can actually lead to more dehydration.
- Pedialyte powder packs yield 16 oz. of beverage with roughly 12 grams of sugar
- 8 oz. of water dosed with DripDrop contains roughly 7 grams of sugar
- Gatorade powder packs yield 20 oz. of beverage with roughly 32 grams of sugar
- A bottle of ready-to-drink Gatorade or Powerade has roughly 21 grams of sugar in every 12 oz.
As you can see, the popular sports drinks have more than 1.5 grams of sugar per ounce, whereas the electrolyte-replenishing powders have less than 1 gram per ounce. Some of the sports drink companies have responded by introducing lower-sugar and even zero-sugar versions of their products. Still, construction companies should also scrutinize product labels for not only sugar content, but also the content of those other essential minerals (electrolytes).
Construction Companies Need a Plan, And a Good Cooler
If a construction company decides that powder mixes make the most sense, it will need a plan for mixing and delivering a drinkable beverage at the jobsite. Accessibility is of utmost importance.
A rugged, portable, easy-to-use cooler is essential. Popular brands like Igloo, Coleman and YETI make insulated coolers that keep ice and beverages cold for hours. Smaller 1-gallon options are great for individual users, while much larger coolers are also available for entire crews to share. Look for features that make the coolers easy to lift and wheel around. Additionally, features that make it easy and sanitary for workers to quickly dispense some beverage into a cup is helpful.
Speaking of cups, that's another component for a construction company to think about. Some employees may have their own insulated tumblers they can use. But for most of the crew, that probably isn't practical. Disposable paper cups represent a safe, sanitary and cost-effective option. A company may even want to look into a cup dispenser if it has a place to mount it.
The bottom line is that construction companies must always take heat stress and dehydration seriously. By having a plan in place to make staying hydrated easy, workers will see how seriously you're taking it — and then they will, too.
Subscribe to the CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365 weekly newsletter to receive more great stories like this.