ANSI’s new hydration standard says workers laboring in high temperatures need drinks that replenish electrolytes lost when they sweat. Here’s what you need to know.

When you’re working in sweltering conditions and trying to protect yourself by staying hydrated, what you drink matters.

Water helps, a fact long recognized by workplace safety experts, but it’s not enough by itself, according to a new guideline from the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, whose consensus recommendations are often referenced in regulations enforced by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The new ANSI policy, A10.50-2024, says employers should provide free beverages that replenish electrolytes to people working in temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for more than two hours. Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium and sodium that help with the body’s fluid regulation and nerve and muscle function.

The voluntary standard may provide useful guidance to employers bracing for record temperatures this summer—after the U.S. government reported that 2023 was the warmest year, on average, since 1850—and trying to prepare for the possibility of new heat safety regulations from OSHA, which can impose penalties for failure to comply.

While OSHA has traditionally regulated heat safety issues under the general provision of a federal law requiring businesses to provide hazard-free workplaces, it has prioritized heat safety in recent years and begun work on a rule setting specific requirements to protect workers from the risks of heat exhaustion, heat stroke and death.

The ANSI standard’s biggest variation from OSHA’s current recommendations is the specification about electrolytes, says Shawn Stasko, who worked with the ANSI panel drafting the rule. Stasko is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Sword Performance, a maker of performance hydration beverages.

“Providing your workforce with water is good,” he says, but electrolyte replacement is crucial. Sodium is particularly important, he says, because it’s not only the primary electrolyte depleted by sweat but also the one that helps bodies regulate fluid distribution, which is disturbed when workers overheat.

Heat Safety: Pay Attention to Your Body

Additionally, the standard recommends avoiding beverages with caffeine or high amounts of sugar because they can speed up dehydration.

“In general, being more aware of what goes into your body, especially in a workplace environment where your paycheck is dependent on your performance, is important,” Stasko says. “You have to take care of the machine.”

Workers can help safeguard their own health by paying attention to their bodies, he adds.

“You need to be cognizant of yourself,” Stasko explains. “‘Do I feel good? Am I sweating differently? Do I feel tired when I wake up?’ There are different factors that we all can sense from our own bodies, and when you begin to feel different that can be a major indicator to change your behavior.”

While people working in different conditions may feel some changes as they adapt, the body’s overall functions should remain normal, and Stasko says hydration helps with that.

Not only does the ANSI standard offer techniques for workers to challenge themselves safely in new environments, he says, but its requirements may also help inform OSHA’s regulation.

The agency began gathering input for a new heat safety rule in 2021, and Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su told Congress in May that OSHA expects to issue a proposed rule later this year. Afterward, the agency would seek more input over a period of months or more to craft a final, enforceable rule.

“It’s a very important effort because heat has become an occupational hazard,” Su said. Thousands of people become sick from occupational heat exposure each year, according to OSHA, and extreme heat was among the highest weather-related causes of death in 2022, with 383 fatalities.

OSHA Drafts New Heat Safety Rule

“What people often complain about is how long the rulemaking process takes,” Su told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “Part of the reason it takes a long time is that we do have to be thoughtful. We have to engage with all the stakeholders. There are a lot of pieces to making sure a rule is thoughtful, is consistent with our authority and is going to have the impact that we want to have.”

In the meantime, OSHA says, it will continue using existing tools to protect workers from heat hazards. The agency has conducted more than 5,000 heat-related inspections since beginning a heat safety emphasis program in 2022.

To keep workers safe and comply with existing regulations, employers should—at a minimum—provide adequate cool water, rest breaks and shade or a cool rest area, OSHA says.

Employees who are new or returning to a high heat workplace should be allowed time to gradually get used to working in hot temperatures, and both workers and managers should be trained to identify and help prevent heat-related illness, according to the agency.

What steps does your business take to protect workers from heat exposure? Tell us in the comments below.



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