The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Hyponatremia Risk in Australia

Graham Marshall - Monday, September 02, 2013
As we come into early Spring in Australia, and the temperature begins to climb again, now is the time for organizations to be reviewing controls in place for work in hot weather.

One area that is often not considered by organizations is the risk associated with Hyponatremia – a potentially fatal condition caused when levels of sodium in the body become dangerously low.

Symptoms of hyponatremia can appear similar to those of heatstroke.

They include headaches, fatigue, restlessness, irritability and confusion. 

If untreated, seizures or coma leading to brain damage and even death can occur.

You've probably heard about Hyponatremia in relation to death's at nightclubs annd "raves" associated with the use of illegal drugs like ecstasy.

The primary cause of Hyponatremia is overhydration due to consumption off too much water.

This occurs when the body takes in more water than it excretes, diluting the body's normal levels of sodium.

Under normal conditions, a healthy adult would need to consume more than nine litres of water a day to become overhydrated. 

Workers who are not properly acclimatised to their environment are at increased risk, as sodium levels can drop further through perspiration during moderate physical work.

To manage the risk posed by Hyponatremia, there are some basic steps which can be undertaken.

Firstly, it is necessary to ensure that new workers are given sufficient time to adjust to hot working conditions offshore.

This is particularly important for workers who usually live in a different climate. 

Secondly, if the consumption of electrolyte drinks is promoted at work, ensure the correct concentration levels are met based on the environment and workload. 

Thirdly, consideration should also be given to the total dissolved salts in the drinking water at the work location, as levels will vary depending on the water source.

For more information and further guidance in managing work in hot environments, operators may refer to the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) document ‘Heat Stress Standard & Documentation Developed for Use in the Australian Environment.’

Contact the AIOH to obtain a copy.
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