Working in pipeline construction is a difficult and often dangerous job. Working long hours in remote locations combined with a transient lifestyle can make it difficult for workers to keep up with their health. Remote Medical International spoke with one of our field medics, Nathan Ziegman, and Tate Williams, an HSE Consultant for a pipeline construction company in Texas, about the challenges of staying healthy on a pipeline project. Together, we came up with five healthy habits pipeline workers can develop on and off-site to improve their job performance and their health.
1. Always Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is one of the most important healthy habits pipeline workers should stay on top of, according to Ziegman. Pipeline construction is a physically demanding job where workers are on projects for long hours and frequently in hot weather. A worker’s body needs extra hydration to stay active. A one percent drop in hydration can lead to a 12% drop in productivity, and a three to four percent decrease in hydration can lead to a drop in productivity between 25% and 50% according to The Daily MBA.
Oftentimes pipeline workers are not drinking enough water to maintain their health while working outside in the heat all day,’ said Ziegman. Their bodies are sweating so much that they need more fluids than they think. The easiest way to monitor your hydration is by checking how clear your urine is.
Immediately replacing fluids that are lost from sweating is the most important way to stay hydrated and prevent heat stress. Workers should always be sure to keep a refillable bottle on, or near them during work, and drink water before, during, and after any physical labor. They should also refrain from drinking caffeine while on the job, as this can accelerate dehydration.
2. Remember to Practice Basic Hygiene
Keeping up with basic hygiene is often a challenge that comes with a transient lifestyle. Each year, handwashing could prevent roughly 1,000,000 deaths, 30% of diarrhea-related illness, and 20% of respiratory infections according to the Center for Disease Control. Physically demanding jobs, combined with long hours in the sun, means that workers should bathe and wash their hands frequently. Doing so helps prevent diseases and illnesses from developing, and stops them from spreading in situations where workers often have to live together in small accommodations.
Basic hygiene practices go a long way to prevent illnesses from developing and spreading, said Williams. Not everyone can afford their own camper, and sometimes you get 10 guys living in an apartment where diseases spread.
It is important that workers wash their hands before, during, and after any physical labor since 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted through touch. It is also important for workers to always bathe thoroughly with soap after a day’s work.
3. Develop a Proper Diet and Meal Plan
Due to the remote nature of pipeline construction projects, access to healthy food can be very hard to find. Many workers then pick unhealthy snacks and junk food from nearby gas stations for their daily meals. Pipeline construction is physically demanding, and the body needs proper energy and nutrition to keep up. Poor nutrition can affect a worker’s ability to keep up with the physical demands of their job, and even put their life at risk.
The best thing I can recommend is to spend some extra time in the evenings to meal prep something with a healthy balance, rather than running out and getting unhealthy food at the gas station, said Williams.
Here are some helpful tips gathered from Go Contractor to get workers started on a healthy meal plan:
- Include vegetables and fruits
- Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients that support good health. Choose fruits and red, orange, and dark green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
- Eat whole grains
- Foods that include 100% whole grains provide more nutrients like fiber and provide energy to get workers through the day.
- Add lean protein
- Always include protein with your meals such as chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts, and fish.
4. Reduce Consumption of Caffeinated Beverages and Alcohol
Caffeinated energy drinks and coffee leads to dehydration and can also cause what’s known as a “crash” of energy. This can be very dangerous when operating vehicles or heavy machinery while on the job, and can potentially put a worker’s life at risk.
Caffeinated energy drinks are very popular among construction workers due to the long hours of work and the energy they need for the job. Although certain energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages may be banned on some pipeline projects, they are still very widely consumed in the industry.
Sometimes workers might sneak energy drinks through any way or drink a lot more coffee instead, causing dehydration or a crash while on the job, said Williams.
Caffeine can cause anxiety, rapid heartbeat, dehydration, and can affect sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Instead of drinking caffeinated beverages in the morning, workers should aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night, and take regular breaks when needed. Workers who are well-rested have more energy, stay alert, and make smarter decisions while on the job.
Alcohol consumption off-hours can greatly affect a worker’s health and job performance the next day on the right-of-way. The body needs to sweat out the alcohol content in the bloodstream, which increases dehydration and can lead to fatigue, exhaustion, and heat-related illnesses while on the job.
When workers get home from a long day’s work, they often drink and go out the bar rather than getting a proper night’s sleep, said Williams. Reducing your alcohol consumption after work could greatly impact your performance, health, and decision making abilities.
5. Have Regular Physicals, and Injuries and Illnesses Evaluated Immediately
Construction workers are often afraid to come forward with health issues. There is a fear that they may lose their job if they need to take a day off due to an injury or illness. Undiagnosed health concerns sometimes go unreported while on the project, potentially risking further injury and illness, as well as the chance of unnecessary recordable incidents. We encourage workers to have all injuries and illnesses evaluated and treated immediately to prevent further complications.
It’s very common to see workers that are hesitant to come forward with their health issues because they’re afraid they will lose their job, said Ziegman. But it’s much better to treat something immediately to prevent further injury and possibly someone else getting hurt.
Workers should know their emergency contacts and nearest available emergency services when on the right-of-way. They should also check in with their on-site health provider frequently if available, or consult with their safety team about their health.
Consult with your safety team about your health, they’re always there to help you, and they’ll advocate for you, said Ziegman.
If you would like to learn more about how you can promote a healthy workforce, and boost morale on pipeline construction projects, contact us today for information about on-site medical and HSE staffing for pipeline projects.