Energy drinks present heat-safety risks

For those who participate in outdoor activities or work in the heat, beware of consuming energy drinks. Drinking these sugary concoctions potentially raises the risk of heat illness because drinking highly caffeinated beverages can promote dehydration. Energy drinks pose a threat, although the actual degree of severity can vary, most consumers do not make a connection that there is even a potential risk.

More attention is being given to the role of energy drinks as heat illness problems arise. However, asking someone if they have consumed an energy drink is not common, but it may be a good idea to ask the question in order to promote awareness. In addition, document that the advisement was made may also prove beneficial in the event something happens. Generally speaking, the solution is more education for everyone involved, including laborers, athletes, campers, etc.

The dangers of relying on energy drinks in hot weather have long been understood by heat safety researchers: Typically loaded with caffeine, a diuretic, the beverages can sap the water bodies need to perspire and maintain a healthy metabolic temperature.

While there is broad consensus that the use of these drinks has become more common over the last several years, no research has been done to show how often workers drink them.  Energy drinks may be permitted, but are by no means a supplement for water. Certified safety professionals trained on heat safety procedures understand the risk is similar to drinking too much alcohol the night before working in the heat, or similar to having too many cups of coffee on the way to work. Either scenario puts a person at greater risk for dehydration.

It is understood by most that keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of water is necessary – especially when exerting physical energy outdoors. However, some individuals may also need or feel pressure to use caffeinated beverages to keep up with work or athletic competition expectations.

Everyone agrees that the interest in protecting people is done by recommending workers/participants drink plenty of water, as well as electrolyte-heavy beverages such as Gatorade. But requiring them to do so is a different matter. Dictating to people what to drink and what not to drink is probably not the best approach, rather continual education on the new emerging risks can work.

With heightened OSHA awareness, it may be necessary to review your heat illness prevention plan and procedures. It is best practice to provide employees working in an area with a heat index above 80 degrees with ample supplies of cool drinking water, rest breaks in the shade, and appropriate clothing suited for hot weather. Other ways to control the heat include rescheduling hot jobs for cooler times of the day (mornings) and reducing the physical demands of the job by using powered assistance.

OSHA does not have standards relating to heat stress for general industry and refers to the General Duty Clause; other states, such as California, have specific standards in place. For example, in California, shade structures must be erected if the temperature exceeds 80 degrees and “high-heat” preventative measures must be taken if the temperature exceeds 95 degrees. Check your state specifics often if you are in a State Plan state for updates and changes. Certainly everyone has a role to play in combating heat stress in the workplace, including workers or participants themselves, in understanding and applying prevention techniques.