One drink too many?
Anyone working under the harsh Australian sun would be well aware of the dangers of dehydration which can lead to heat stress and eventually heatstroke. While keeping up the fluid intake is critical, consuming too much water can actually be dangerous and lead to a condition known as hyponatremia or ‘water intoxication’.
Hyponatremia occurs as a result of drinking more water than the body can expel, which dilutes the sodium levels in the blood. Work that promotes heavy sweating can cause hyponatremia, where water is consumed to replace lost fluids without also replacing lost electrolytes including sodium.
Someone suffering from hyponatremia experiences similar symptoms to that of heatstroke, including headaches, confusion, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and irritability. Like heatstroke, it can also escalate to a life threatening condition if left untreated, causing possible seizures, brain damage or coma.
A recent dangerous occurrence reported to petroleum industry regulator NOPSEMA, suggests that offshore workers may be particularly susceptible to overhydration. Whilst a healthy adult working in normal conditions would need to drink more than 9 litres of water in a day to become overhydrated, offshore workers. whose bodies have not properly acclimatised to the environment before they start their shift, are at increased risk, with sodium levels dropping through sweating during only moderate physical activity. In the incident reported to NOPSEMA, an offshore worker required medical evacuation to an intensive care unit after suffering from a seizure caused by hyponatremia.
Offshore operators can reduce the risk of exposure by ensuring the incoming work crew has sufficient time to properly acclimatise to the site environment before their shift commences, encouraging workers to drink electrolyte drinks (ones with low sugar are best) and educating workers about the need to hydrate effectively.
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