Calories Are Not Created Equal: Fatigue, Safety, and Nutrition
by Troy Schrenk
On grueling remote jobsites in the construction and energy industries, safety is the major concern. Harsh climates and strict schedules mean extra care when it comes to driving trucks or operating heavy machinery. Accidents can derail projects, increase costs, set back schedules…and, worst of all, result in serious injuries.
With so much on the line, worrying about healthy food might not seem like a high priority when it comes to bottom line, or effort to complete a project. Employers might think that what their workers eat isn’t their business, and that employee nutrition programs are “nice to have”, but not an urgent problem their workforce. They may also be afraid that workers won’t find nutritious food appealing, and it might go to waste.
It’s time to think again: nutrition has a real impact on safety and performance on the job. Here are some hard reasons why workforce nutrition matters for remote jobsites, safety, and the bottom line.
All Calories are not the same
A figure you often hear is that workers performing demanding physical work on a 12-hour shift need 4,000 calories. At first glance, a few greasy burgers and a large soda should do it. But athletes don’t eat fast food and junk food when they need to achieve high performance; it’s logical that physical labor (like that on an oil or construction site) puts the same demands on the human body. Calories are necessary, but they need to be accompanied by vital nutrients.
Dr. Rebecca Loudoun, a specialist in health and safety at work, studied the diet of temporary construction workers as part of an effort to prevent cardiovascular disease in the construction industry. She notes that high-calorie, super-caffeinated energy drinks posed a problem:
“…Supplier vending machine agreements and promotional site visits boosted the availability of these drinks which have high calories, low nutritional value and no essential vitamins and minerals. But for many, particularly young workers, this was their meal.”
Beth Castle is a nutritionist specializing in the needs of the remote workforce. She has a similar observation when it comes to workers who don’t live in a camp or lodge with a dining option:
“I’ve seen guys grab bags of junk food from convenience stores…and taking that to the site and relying on that,” she says. “Some guys are drinking five to six energy drinks per day, and they give you a synthetic high — our brains need good food.”
Is a worker on a steady diet of convenience store junk and energy drinks really prepared for a hard shift working with machinery or driving large trucks?
The Link between Fatigue and Poor Nutrition
Fatigue management is a critical factor for construction and energy industry workers. Everyone understands that sleep deprivation and fatigue increase the risk of accidents. Poor nutrition can lead to a lack of energy, increasing fatigue.
If a worker has a poor level of nutrition and hasn’t eaten for a long period of time, the result can be low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia): symptoms can be headaches, dizziness, sweating, trembling, tremors, clumsiness and difficulty paying attention. Workers might also experience confusion, anxiety, and changes in behavior and mood. As Beth Castle asks, “Can you imagine working sensitive, sensitive equipment when that is going on?”
With a diet high in carbohydrates, workers can feel hungry or weak after just a few hours on the job. A body hard at work requires 1.2 g to 1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight. Quantity is important, but protein, iron, and vitamins are absolutely critical to health and performance.
Good and Good For You
Worried about workers not being interested in healthier options? At Target Hospitality, our chefs understand worker palates and know that nutritious food doesn’t have to be unappetizing. For example, our Williston Lodge features a delicious dish of lamb and spinach wrapped in puff pastry. Our skilled culinary staff understand how to strike a balance between hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meat and potatoes fare, and healthier options that give workers the nutrients and energy they need for their challenging days.
Nutrition has an impact on fatigue, which has an impact on performance…which in turn has an impact on project safety. Companies considering options for housing on remote sites need to take nutrition into account. It’s a simple equation: Healthy food equates to a healthy, engaged, attentive workforce.