Heat is the enemy.  People who have not been there are often incredulous that mining and construction workers in the north of Western Australia regularly do their shifts in temperatures hovering around 50°C.  That's right — they work in temperatures over 120°F.  Recently discussing the issue with correspondents from places like Canada and Denmark, I answered some of their questions like this:

·         What do the workers say?

Blimey, it's hot!

·         The local OH clinic?

Blimey, it's hot!

·         The TV and other media?

It was hot up in the Pilbara today.

·         Do the health and labour ministry agree in this?

Do they agree it was hot? Yes!

Can they change the weather? No!

Can they shift the ore deposits? No!

Would they stop people mining the ore? You've got to be kidding!

So, heat is the issue but hydration issues are the consequence.

Traditionally, such workers fight dehydration by drinking a lot of water. In extreme conditions, a common recommendation is 250ml every 15min. That can be 12l in a day! Twelve litres would be extreme, but it is not out of the question. Recently, however, there is a change afoot. Electrolyte replacement beverages (ERBs) are becoming fashionable. Advertising backed by idolized sports people are making concentration on ERBs more and more common. Many companies in the north now supply them in powdered form (just add water). Misgivings are often raised about the effect of drinking 12l of ERB per day on a regular basis. What does it do to your liver?

Dieticians tell me - it does absolutely nothing. An excess of electrolyte salts will simply be excreted as normal. It doesn't do any good, but in a healthy adult it should do no harm. The sinister bit is hidden.  While people worry about Potassium and Magnesium salts, it is really Carbohydrates that are the problem. 

Dietary issues in general are a real worry in remote camps. People in camps tend to eat things because (a) they are there, and (b) they are free. Steak and eggs and fries (no greens, of course) is a common evening meal, and you can imagine what people eat for breakfast.  Add to that the amount of sugar in common, on-the-job refreshment beverages and you have a real problem.


Sugar in Common Beverages

Figure 1: Sugar Content

Product

g/100ml

g/2l

Gatorade

6.3

126

Staminade

6.1

122

Thorzt

3.88

77.6

Thorzt Sugar Free

0

0

Coca Cola

10.6

212


Coca Cola is a common refreshment people take to work.  You often see someone off to work with a 2l bottle of Coke —but just think about the sugar content.  Figure 2shows the amount of sugar contained in a mere 600ml bottle of Coca Cola (64g).  Few people would put that much sugar on their Granola in the morning but they will drink 2l of Coke (and more than three times the amount of sugar shown) in a day and think nothing of it. Bear in mind that 600ml of Gatorade or Staminade still contain more than half that amount of sugar. The health consequences of such a high sugar intake are obvious.

There are alternatives.  Thorzt (an ERB made in Australia) is, in its standard form, low sugar, but there is a fully sugar-free version.  It would not be the only one available. Obviously, water is also sugar-free.  Equally obviously, the lesson is to read the label. 

Dr Trent Watson of the Dieticians Association of Australia put it this way:

The sugar free drinks are fine regarding the weight gain aspect. ... Water is still the best solution. Having said that, if the sugar-free version encourages them to be well hydrated I would endorse this.

Good advice to people in hydration-problem environments is:

1. Be aware of the symptoms of dehydration.

2. Arrive at work hydrated (so you are not playing catch-up).

3. Drink water little and often.

4. When symptoms appear drink water more and often.

5. If symptoms persist seek medical help.

6. Drink water before knockoff.

7. Drink water before bed.