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Are unacclimatised FIFO and DIDO workers at a higher risk for dehydration and heat stress illnesses?

Fly in Fly out (FIFO) and Drive in Drive out (DIDO) workers form a significant part of the Australian industrial workforce. Often travelling long distances frequently to tough, hot environments can increase environmental heat stress. Studies show that a worker performing heavy manual work in the heat can take up to 10 days or more to safely adapt to the work conditions1.

In hot humid conditions, workers can sweat 1-2 litres of sweat, and in the process lose fluid as well as important nutrients like electrolytes. Consumption of diuretics and soft drinks can further exacerbate the problem by increasing frequency of urination. Replacing fluid and electrolytes like sodium is important to keep the worker hydrated and prevent symptoms of dehydration like lack of co-ordination, low reaction time, fatigue, dizziness and headaches. Excessive sweating also reduces the body’s ability to cool down, increasing risk of increased core body temperature and heat illnesses. Not replacing this fluid loss can crease risk of injury, reduce productivity and cause long-term health problems.

Heat Accclimatisation is the body’s natural coping mechanism for adaptation to changes in environmental temperatures. Studies show that a fully acclimatized worker loses less sodium in sweat and is at lower risk of fluid imbalances2. A variety of factors including, rosters, shift lengths, regional or seasonal climatic changes and job role changes can affect acclimatization levels in the workplace.

Studies show that acclimatised workers have higher levels of productivity than unacclimatised workers, and have higher thirst sensations, helping them consume more fluid to stay hydrated. It is recommended that a comprehensive approach to managing thermal hazards at the workplace, take acclimatization into account for reduced risks, higher productivity and safe working conditions for workers.

A sodium enhanced drink, which is low in carbohydrates, can help workers replace fluid and electrolyte losses. Electrolyte drinks like Sqwincher are available in both sugar and sugar free options and are formulated for higher palatability to help increase fluid consumption.

“For the first two weeks I was in hospital three times. I wasn’t drinking enough water; I was only consuming 600mL of water a day. I was severely dehydrated. I had cramps, headaches and I felt drained and run down. I was losing lots of salt as well, my clothes started turning white and I started getting rashes. I had to go on a saline drip when I was in hospital. I was about to head home because I wasn’t surviving up there, however, I was recommended to use an electrolyte replacement drink called Sqwincher®. Sqwincher® really saved my life. ” Stephan Thelan, Mine Site Worker, Port Hedland, Western Australia

Sources –

1 Sweat Rate and sodium loss during work in the heat by Graham P Bates and Veronica S Miller http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2267797/

2 A quantitative method for aseessing the impact of acclimatisation in the workplace by Rick Brake – Principal Consultant , Mine Ventilation Australia