Cold hands: A risk for decreased manual performance in Arctic open-pit mines

Lead Author Hannu, Rintamäki
Institution Contact Finnish Institute of Occupational Health Aapistie 1 FI-90220 Oulu Finland
Co-Authors Sirkka Rissanen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Oulu, Finland Satu Mänttäri, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Oulu, Finland Juha Oksa, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Oulu, Finland Kirsi Jussila, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Oulu, Finland MineHealth Reseach Group
Theme Theme 4: Building Long-term Human Capacity
Session Name 4.5 Work and workers in the Arctic
Datetime Thu, Sep 15, 2016 01:30 PM - 01:45 PM
Presentation Type Oral
Abstract text The initial response of humans exposed to cold is the prevention of heat loss by decreasing circulation in skin, arms and legs. Hands and feet are especially vulnerable to cooling as their heat balance depends almost totally on the heat transported by circulation. The thermal insulation of handwear is usually smaller than that in footwear, as manual performance is decreased by well insulated handwear. As a result, cold hands are a common problem in outdoor work. Cooling of hands decreases manual performance as well as tactile sensitivity and increases the risk of accidents. This study aimed to quantify the problem of cold hands in Arctic open pit mines.

The questionnaire study was carried out in four open pit mines in Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Moreover, skin temperatures as well as thermal sensations were recorded in Kevitsa (Finland) and Aitik (Sweden) open pit mines among 14 male and 2 female mine workers with duties consisting mainly of outdoor work.

The questionnaire study (n = 1323) revealed that experienced cold problems were negligible at ambient temperatures above -10°C. However, at -10 - -20°C, 25 % of workers estimated that their prevailing thermal sensation was “cold”. Skin temperature measurements showed that finger skin temperatures were below 15°C (a threshold for sharp performance decrement) for 21% of the working time.

The questionnaire study and skin temperature measurements suggest unequivocally that hands/fingers are so cold that manual performance is markedly decreased in more than 20% of workers/working time. Such a decrease in manual performance increases the risk of accidents. It should be noted that during the skin temperature measurements ambient temperature was never below -16°C. Improved cold protection should be directed to cold sensitive workers and tasks especially at ambient temperatures below -10°C.

This study was funded by Kolarctic ENPI CBC.
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