Sniping in social media raises issues about hydration

A spat has recently emerged on one of the safety discussion forums in Linkedin.  The catalyst was a statement that

The source of this data, not disclosed at the time of the original post, was a company that sells

“…a great tasting, scientifically proven mix of cutting-edge branch chain amino acids and low Gi carbohydrates for sustained energy release, combined with a formulated blend of electrolytes for optimum hydration in harsh Australian conditions”.

The discussion quickly refocused from the original safety concern to one of unreliability of statements; sadly the discussion also became personal and abusive. but the discussion raised two discussion points:

  • The reliability of statements on the internet, and
  • the issue of hydration and work performance.

Internet Reliability

It is an established practice to be suspicious of all information on the internet.  This is an extension of the wise advice to be questioning of all we hear, all we know and all we believe, but in the context of the modern technological world.  There are some internet sites and information sources that are more reliable than others but even those will not be 100% reliable (refer to some of the discussion on plagiarism, and academic dishonesty. A particularly useful paper on the latter was a UNESCO report from 2003).

One could argue that the social media, of which this blog is an example, is inherently unreliable. Certainly it can be easily manipulated. But a questioning approach to all the information we consume, should reduce the risk of mistake or, at least, place us in a reasonably practicable position, even if it is embarrassing.

In the context of the quote above, there is no indication that the quote was an example of mischievous marketing as the poster works for a company unrelated to the product.  However, modern advertising can be very sneaky and we need to be aware of the possibility of advertising whenever on the internet.

Hydration

The relationship between hydration, well-being and productivity is far more contentious.  We, the Westernised countries, are being told that we do not drink enough water.

It is important to note that a particularly persistent statement about hydration is a myth.  Snopes.com has identified that there is no foundation to the commonly heard statement that:

“The average person needs to drink eight glasses of water per day to avoid being “chronically dehydrated.””

The body has a fairly effective system to regulate hydration and, as Snopes.com advises, drink when you feel thirsty.  Of course, this is dependent on an employer providing sufficient resources and time to do this – that’s where the OHS and Industrial Relations professionals step in.

The Linkedin discussion directed readers to a thesis about heat stress in the mining sector.  The thesis covers a large number of work-related issues but does make statements such as:

“The primary contributors to heat stress include the climatic conditions, the intensity of work performed, and the clothing worn.” (page 73)

On the issue of hydration, the thesis’ author, Andrew Phillip Hunt, writes

“When work is performed under high levels of heat stress, particularly if the individual is of low fitness and poor body composition, there is a high risk that heat strain will be excessive.” (page 80)

and

“Dehydration is a modifiable factor as hydration can be restored through fluid and food consumption.  It was thus considered a temporary factor for heat intolerance.” (page 81)

No one research paper should be used as conclusive evidence and Hunt’s thesis needs to be considered in a broad range of research but it does remind us that there are other factors that need consideration beyond climatic conditions; one of them, clothing, seems to be often overlooked.

Perhaps the biggest objection to the original statistical post in Linkedin was the simplicity of the statement.  There was no mention of other factors, such as clothing or general fitness of the worker, or the intensity of the work task or acclimatisation. The product was seen as a cure-all for dehydration rather than part of a work health and safety strategy.

The website in the original post includes statements that desperately require the inclusion of references to the source data.  This paragraph in particular, the source of the original post’s graphic, is dramatic:

“3% dehydration can slow your reaction time to the same extent as 0.08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). At 0.08 BAC you are 5 times more likely to crash your car, which begs the question – how much more likely are you to have a workplace accident when dehydrated?”

It’s a good question but the argument would be better served if an answer was included.  And the 3% figure?  It is easy to include a footnote to the source, especially on a website.  The lack of such a link casts doubt on the statistic.  Sloppy marketing for short term advantage.

(SafetyAtWorkBlog continues to be critical of comparing workplace activities and risks to those of driving vehicles)

In a summary (page 103) Hunt writes:

“Dehydration, and poor aerobic fitness and body composition are key factors that raise the heat strain experienced by an individual.  Acclimatisation also has an important influence, with acclimatised individuals showing reduced heat strain. Finally factors such as age and gender should be considered when evaluating heat strain….”

Determining the risks associated with working in heat is not simple

Fit For Work

Another element in the initial post is that being dehydrated equates to being unfit for work.  The issue of being “fit for work” has been contentious for years and will be increasingly so as more attention is given to psychosocial well being and cognitive functions.

It seems that “fit for work” has originated primarily from the return-to-work processes (and reached a peak in the UK over the “fit-note“) but as it becomes a determinant for those starting work each day and a more overt OHS consideration in hazard reduction, it will require a clearer definition.

The Safe Work Australia has many mentions of “fit for work” but only one publication expressly discusses the issue, the 2007 publication “Work-Related Alcohol and Drug Use: A Fit for Work Issue“.

It is time that this commonly used term is formalised so that the OHS context of its use is clearer.

The discussion, and sniping, generated by a single post on a LinkedIn discussion forum is indicative of the risks and traps in using social media but such discussions can also illustrate deficiencies in knowledge and understanding of OHS and workplace concepts.  All professions must be prepared to question statements so that myths do not perpetuate to the detriment of the profession. The OHS profession remains comparatively young and there are many gaps in definitions of basic concepts.  These gaps may be seen by some as opportunities for marketing.  Others may seem them as opportunities for research.  Either way there is a need for clarity, and a need to seek this clarity in a polite, constructive manner.

Kevin Jones

 

 

9 thoughts on “Sniping in social media raises issues about hydration”

  1. The correct link to the Unesco 2003 report is AUthor: Max Eckstein. Title: Combating Academic Fraud, Towards a culture of integrity.

  2. Standard clothing can play a part in the equation but not as much as one might think. To get an idea, have a look at ISO STD 9920. As has already been pointed out, more important is how the air moves around the skin and the impact on the evaporation of the sweat, hence the long flowing robes of the Bedouins in the deserts. As for electrolytes and hydration, there are volumes of research out there which provide evidence for and against. They should be read and weighed up carefully against the intended use scenario (i.e. much of the research is done on high performance athletes). My take has always been to encourage the use of plain water and top up with electrolytes in situations of high levels of sweat loss particularly in unacclimatised individuals. The other aspect is that some people don’t like plain water and if adding some low sugar flavouring gets them to drink more water then it may have a place.

  3. As one who copped personal abuse in this example as opposed to professional debate, I’d like to congratulate you Kevin for the balanced way you have tackled this issue. When people descend into reactionary name calling it says a great deal about them and their lack of professionalism. If one has a defense then conduct it professionally with research and consideration. Some people can’t tell the difference between tackling an idea or tackling a person and this makes Linkedin quite amateurish and toxic at times. One thing is for sure, naive generalizations as masked advertising should attract healthy criticism as this post deserved.

  4. I’ll hazard an opinion that clothing is likely to be a furphy, given permanent desert dwellers’ clothing can range from practically nothing to full head-to-foot robes. Cotton is definitely preferable to synthetics and animal fibres in its ability to “breathe” and allow perspiration to evaporate – which of course means you need access to fluids to re-hydrate. Cotton is also preferred to synthetics in conditions where fire can be an issue, e.g. welding or foundries, and is mandatory around fuels and flammable gases because it has low static potential compared to synthetics.

    1. All good stuff, but how is that relevant to the miners in the open cut Pilbara mines? There are “space age” materials that allow fluids to pass unidirectionally, are lightweight, UV resistant, and so on

      1. The article mentions a thesis about surface miners but is not about safety in mining. Are there any comments about fit-for-work, the importance of evidence, hydration myths, the sneakiness of social media…..?

  5. One of the issues raised in discussing dehydration is that of clothing, and its suitability for the environment in which it is used. I wonder what evidence base there is for the inclusion of drill shirts with gusseted sleeves, reflective stripes, and a material weight unsuitable for the Australian climate? My impression is that the use of drill cotton goes back many years where low pressure steam leaks were a real possibility. I suspect there are much better materials now available…

  6. Kevin,
    Actually, 60% may not be that far off the money. See link below to primary research where 50% of staff arrived dehydrated in an Australian FIFO mining setting. Nonetheless, in a situation where staff are having three square meals per day, water alone is the preferred beverage for rehydration. Even more vexing is why and how staff become dehydrated, which will more than likely be site-specific…
    https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/45/4/45_4_579/_pdf

    1. Thanks for the research link Tony.

      Even though the thesis referred to in the article is related to mining I would be more interested in research into all the issues raised in the article from the non-mining sector as those findings are more likely to be readily applied across a range of industry types and sizes. I am sure there must be research in Australia’s construction and local government sectors on these matters.

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