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The importance of keeping hydrated at work

Having the correct level of hydration will effect everything you do both at home and at work.

Hydration should never be underestimated. It is a fundamental pillar to keep a workforce functioning safely, whether it is manual handling, carrying out risk assessments, COSHH or Working at Height.

Employees don’t always realise the importance of staying hydrated at work – yet employers must provide drinking water for staff by law, it’s so vital to our wellbeing.

An “adequate supply” of drinking water must be available, whether in the form of a drinking fountain or with a supply of cups, as set out by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. In addition, HR, H&S and occupational health professionals need to communicate to employees how important it is to keep hydrated.

Why hydration is so important

The message to employees should be to drink water, rather than just tea and coffee. They need to drink water regularly throughout the day in small amounts, not just at mealtimes or if they feel thirsty.

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, which could risk a rise in poor health, sick days, and accidents at work.

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.

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.

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

Everyone needs to stay hydrated at work, but it can be difficult to define the necessary water intake for every individual employee, as a range of factors come into play. For example, a person’s age and gender can affect how much water they need, as well as the level of physical activity their job involves and the climate they work in.

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.

The generally accepted guidelines are, that we should aim to drink 8 – 10 x 250ml glasses of water-based fluids per day.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends employees should drink around half a pint (250ml) of water every 15 minutes when working hard in hot conditions. However, this may not be practical in the workplace, especially if the employee is wearing protective clothing that makes it hard to drink, or if the business’s hygiene rules prevent consuming food or drink while working. In this case, the HSE suggests drinking 500ml of water an hour before work commences and a further 500ml of water during each rest period.

The NHS recommends women should drink eight 200ml glasses of water and men should drink ten glasses each day. This advice is echoed by the British Nutrition Foundation, which says water is the best beverage to drink to keep hydrated.

  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. Still or sparkling water, 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. Where possible have your water bottle to hand and in sight 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.
  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% + water.

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.