Construction workers often use energy drinks, such as Monster and Red Bull, for a quick pick-me-up. However, many people are unaware of the risks their consumption poses. Using these highly caffeinated and nutritionally deficient beverages can result in serious health complications. In fact, many companies in the construction industry have deemed energy drinks dangerous enough to ban them from work sites.
Energy drinks can cause insomnia, nervousness, headaches, nausea and anxiety. These symptoms can put workers at an increased risk of being involved in an accident. Also, workers sometimes combine these beverages with poor diet, alcohol abuse, tobacco and obesity, drastically increasing the negative effect on their health.
When these drinks are consumed in hot weather, the health risks are amplified. To avoid heat stress, workers must stay hydrated. Energy drinks contain diuretics, which increase urination and promote dehydration, greatly increasing the risk of other heat-related illnesses. In addition, consuming energy drinks with alcohol intensifies dehydration, which leads to its own ill effects.
Energy drinks can also cause liver deterioration. Recently, a construction worker in Florida was diagnosed with severe liver problems after drinking four or five energy drinks per day for a few weeks. He developed a yellowish skin color. His blood tests indicated that he had elevated liver enzymes and liver damage. Further testing revealed that the worker had developed acute hepatitis.
According to Mary Brophy Marcus, CBS News health and wellness contributor, “The doctors believe that high levels of vitamin B3, or niacin, in the energy drink the man consumed are what caused the hepatitis. Each bottle he drank contained 40 milligrams of niacin—double the recommended daily value. He was likely guzzling anywhere from 160 to 200 milligrams of niacin a day for at least three weeks, putting him at high risk for harmful accumulation and toxicity.”
Unfortunately, this diagnosis is not the only one of its kind. In April, a 16-year old in South Carolina died from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia,” according to the Washington Post.
The American Heart Association asserts that drinking as few as one to three energy drinks can disrupt heart rhythm, cause heart palpitations and raise blood pressure. Over time, these symptoms can result in cardiac arrest or even death. Prolonged or excessive use of these drinks can also cause heart attack or stroke.
Energy drink makers claim their products are safe. However, consumption has been linked to neurological problems and seizures in children and kidney failure in adults. Additionally, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer health advocacy group, reports that there may be as many as 34 deaths associated with energy drink consumption.
Although, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have specific regulations or guidelines pertaining to energy drinks on the job, any work-related incident can be cited under the general-duty clause. It is the employer’s obligation to protect workers from all known hazards.
What can be done to protect workers from the dangers associated with energy drinks? Employers can consider revising their injury and illness prevention programs to address them. They can remove energy drinks from on-site vending machines or prohibit their consumption altogether.
At the very least, employers should provide training and awareness programs to ensure all employees are familiar with the effects and dangers associated with energy drinks. Additionally, workers with existing health conditions, weight problems or poor diet should use extreme caution when consuming energy drinks. Individuals with liver and kidney disease, heart conditions or hypertension should avoid them completely.
Employers can also provide ample supplies of cool drinking water, rest breaks in the shade and appropriate clothing when workers are out in hot weather. Other ways to control heat exposure include rescheduling some jobs for cooler times of the day (mornings) and reducing the physical demands of the job by using powered assistance.
If you would like more information regarding job safety and work site hazards, visit www.osha.gov.