Employees don’t always realise the importance of staying hydrated at work – yet employers must provide drinking water for staff by law because 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 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. This is important to maintain the body’s fluid balance.
Medical research, published by Harvard Health, lists the many health benefits of drinking water: It carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells; flushes bacteria from your bladder; aids digestion; prevents constipation; helps normalise blood pressure; stabilises the heartbeat; cushions joints and protects organs and tissues.
According to the Natural Hydration Council, being properly hydrated is associated with better mental performance and cognition. It can also help to combat tiredness and fatigue. All of these benefits combine to achieve greater productivity at work.
What are the symptoms of dehydration?
Hot working conditions and hard manual work can significantly affect a person’s hydration level.
If someone gets too hot, they may suffer respiratory problems as their breathing gets shorter, almost like panting. This can lead to hyperventilation and eventually dehydration, as large amounts of fluid are lost through exhaled air.
The symptoms of dehydration include feeling thirsty; feeling lightheaded and dizzy; having a dry mouth, eyes and lips; feeling tired and urinating less than four times a day. If left untreated, dehydration can get worse and have serious consequences.
Staying hydrated at work
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.
The European Food Safety Authority recommends a daily intake of two litres of water for women and 2.5 litres for men. However, this quantity applies to people who are working in a “moderate” temperature with similarly moderate activity levels. It states the body’s water loss under extreme conditions, when high temperature is combined with physical exercise, can be as high as eight litres a day – this must be replaced accordingly.
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.
Is it possible to drink too much water?
Perhaps surprisingly, you can drink too much water, resulting in a condition known as water intoxication, or hyponatremia. It causes the insides of cells to flood and your body will suffer abnormally low sodium levels.
If you’re someone who carries around a water bottle all day and refills it immediately, as soon as you have drunk it all, you may be drinking too much water. When the cells in your body swell, it can be dangerous, as your brain can also swell. Once it has swollen by around 10%, it reaches the skull and can push out the brain stem.
Early symptoms of over-hydration include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. If you continue drinking too much water, it can have very serious consequences, such as seizures, so as with most things relating to health, don’t overdo it.
The ideal amount to drink
With the different variables involved, such as the temperature in your workplace and the type of tasks you do, it can be difficult to know exactly how much water you should be drinking.
If you’re in an office environment or coworking space with a moderate temperature, health experts generally recommend sticking to the guidance of 2.5 litres for men and two litres for women per day.
The message to employees is to drink a small glass of water regularly, at various periods throughout the day, rather than drinking a lot at mealtimes, or waiting until you feel thirsty.
Keeping hydrated is associated with better mental performance and cognition and combating tiredness, so it’s in your best interests to drink the recommended daily water intake to keep mentally alert in the workplace.
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