A clear solution for mining fatigue

Australia’s mine sites are often described as being ‘hotter than hell’.

Coming into the summer months it’s not out of the ordinary for temperatures to spiral well beyond the 30s and 40s onsite, and in full PPE it can be sweltering.

When it’s that hot it’s easy to suffer the effects of dehydration.

But what’s even more worrying in a mining context is the link between dehydration and fatigue, especially when safety and ‘having your head in the game’ is beyond necessary.

Australian Mining spoke to Tracey Pringle, a fatigue consultant at TMS Consulting to get the low down on how to cope with the summer heat and keep fit-for-work – both mentally and physically.

“There is a known link between hydration levels and the onset of fatigue in individuals,” she said.

“Dehydration and fatigue are proven to be linked in body physiology.”

When it comes to mental health and dehydration – the link cannot be accurately measured but Pringle explained that considering the brain is made up of approximately 80 per cent water there is a link between dehydration and cognitive function.

“Mental ability can be affected when dehydration occurs, including impacts such as poor concentration, lapses in memory, sleep impairment and irritability,” she said.

“Negative effects of dehydration on cognitive performance have been shown in several studies; the clinical effects of dehydration on cognitive function highlight the importance of maintaining optimal hydration.” 

One of the first signs of dehydration is thirst, Pringle explains. 

Warning signs

If the dehydration continues, and the body does not absorb sufficient water, then the symptoms of dehydration will increase.

“The human body needs on average two litres of water per day to maintain healthy hydration levels,” she said.

“Where there is increased activity or physical exertion then the amount of required water intake increases.”

Fatigue is another early symptom of dehydration.

“The severity of the symptoms of dehydration depend on the amount of fluid loss in the body,” she said.

Some of the common symptoms for mild to moderate dehydration are thirst, dry mouth, fatigue and tiredness, decreased urination and urination dark in colour, dry skin, headache, dizziness, and lack of concentration.

Pringle warned that if the symptoms of dehydration are ignored it can escalate to heat exhaustion and heat stroke which can be life threatening.

Practical hydration tips

It is important for workers to be proactive in preventing dehydration.

Some important tips for maintaining sufficient hydration levels at work are:

  • Drink a minimum of 2 litres of water a day. Consume water before, during and after activity and increase during heavy physical exertion and on hot days.
  • Ensure you drink water first thing in the morning, as well as in the evening before going to bed to allow your body to rehydrate from the day and maintain sufficient levels during the night.
  • Don’t wait until you are excessively thirsty before consuming water. Make it a habit to consume reasonable levels of water on a regular basis as a means of prevention.
  • Avoid or reduce drinks that act as a diuretic and contribute to fluid loss from the body. These include alcohol, coffee and soft drinks.
  • Eat regular meals as a means for your body to obtain sufficient salt and electrolyte levels to avoid imbalances.
  • Monitor your urine colour. If your urine is orange and dark, this is a sign you are dehydrated.  When urine colour is pale yellow to clear it indicates sufficient water intake.
  • Use sun protection – getting sunburnt contributes to dehydration.

Dehydration and safety

Operating plant and heavy machinery while suffering dehydration can pose significant risk to an individual and their colleagues.

Pringle explains that dehydration can be unpredictable and suffers can experience rapid deterioration.

Up to 60 per cent of body weight is made up of water; a statistic which Pringle says clearly shows the necessity of consuming water to maintain normal body function.  

“When you take into consideration that every cell of the body requires water, then an insufficiency of body water will cause disturbance to various bodily processes and can cause an onset of fatigue,” she said.

When there is a lack of sufficient fluid in the body blood concentration becomes thicker.

“This results in a reduction in the volume of blood plasma which puts pressure on the heart for supplying oxygen and nutrients to the body,” Pringle explains.

“The excess energy that is now utilised for blood circulation can cause the individual to experience weakness and symptoms of fatigue.”

Dehydration can also cause electrolytes to be lost. Electrolytes play a vital role in muscle contraction, nerve reactions and regulating fluid levels.

“Imbalance of these electrolytes can cause fatigue and muscle weakness, and dehydration and fatigue can occur simultaneously,” Pringle said.

“Dehydration from excessive fluid loss leading to electrolyte imbalance can cause sudden onset of muscle weakness, dizziness, nausea and sometimes fainting.

“When an individual experiences a lack of water in the body, the muscle and organs use up maximum nutrients and oxygen to continue their functions.

“As this process continues, the body’s mechanism to diffuse heat is impaired. This increase in internal heat can cause fatigue.”

When working in a high risk environment like mining, Pringle explained these physiological symptoms can create extremely unsafe and unpredictable situations.

“The hot ambient temperatures, long days and extended work cycles often experienced by mining workers can also create a gradual increase in the accumulation of dehydration in workers and can result in a sudden onset of severe dehydration symptoms during tasks that require physical exertion,” she said.

“Cognitive function has also been known to deteriorate when dehydrated and the reduced concentration and focus as a result can potentially create serious safety concerns for those operating in the mining industry due to the nature of the work and environment.”

All in a glass of water iwatermages.jpg

Good hydration has many short and long term health benefits.

Maintaining good hydration enhances mental clarity, improves digestion, regulates body temperature, prevents physical fatigue and headaches, improves concentration spans and assists in promoting healthy kidney function.

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