Contractors tackle heatstroke with more than ‘pinch of salt’

As the mercury rises across the Gulf, some contractors are supplying oral rehydration fluids to their site workers to help prevent dehydration and heatstroke.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  July 16, 2005

With temperatures poised to hit the high 40s, contractors are turning to oral re-hydration fluids to supplement drinking water on site. Balfour Beatty Dutco is one of a number of contractors that are providing oral rehydration fluids on site to ensure that their workers do not suffer from dehydration. By making the fluids readily available, contractors hope to curb the number of labourers suffering from heatstroke. This is becoming a severe problem on sites throughout the region, and is one of the reasons that both Kuwait and the UAE have taken the dramatic decision to ban outdoor working between the hours of 12.30 pm and 4.30 pm. Experts have warned that the average labourer needs to drink between 6 and 8 litres of fluids every day in the summer — up to four times the recommended daily intake for people working in temperate conditions. By supplementing drinking supplies with oral rehydration fluids, labourers are able to replenish vital minerals like common salt or sodium chloride, potassium chloride and magnesium chloride that are all lost through sweating. Contractors traditionally gave out salt tablets to replace lost minerals, but now realise that this approach can have an adverse effect. “We are trying to keep away from common salt because salt is not good for people with either high or low blood pressure,” says Steve Van der Vyver, group health and safety manager, Dutco Balfour Beatty Group. Several brands of oral rehydration fluids are on trial with contractors, which are supplied as a powder and mixed on site before being made available to labourers. Contractors began to focus on the problem of dehydration in May by instructing supervisors to inform their staff of the symptoms of dehydration, and the importance of making sure that they take enough fluids on board during the course of the day. “Dehydration is one of the main topics covered in daily tool box talks,” says Van der Vyver. Other contractors are also making proper hydration a top health and safety priority. Bill Tunney, a safety officer on a major Dubai construction project, said: “Awareness is very important because when you’re thirsty, your body is already a litre of fluids down. “You need to keep drinking throughout the day, and that is why you have to make water readily available around the site.” Although the heat is often perceived as the main problem when it comes to dehydration, it is the humidity that in fact causes the most problems. “The humidity is the real killer because it reaches a point where the air is saturated with water so sweat doesn’t evaporate. This means the body can’t cool itself down,” says Tunney. “It is during periods of high humidity that labourers complain of not feeling well,” he says.

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