Identification of risk factors in cold work

University dissertation from Luleå : Luleå tekniska universitet

Abstract: All employers and self employed people have a legal duty to assess risks from their work activities, and for many persons in various occupations cold is a source of risks to their health and well-being. Questionnaire surveys conducted in the Nordic countries have indicated that 14 - 16% of employees experience cold as a hazard in their work. In this thesis an observational checklist for cold risk assessment was developed as a part of the four step strategy (screening, observation, analysis and expertise) for evaluation and prevention of risks due to work in thermal environments. The usability of the checklist was tested (N=82 times) by workers' representatives in the work safety committees, OH&S representatives, occupational nurses, foremen and the workers themselves, who served as observers. The results of the testing showed that the checklist is an observational method that is easy to use according to the provided instructions. It does not require comprehensive training or knowledge. It takes about a half an hour to conduct, and causes no interference with work activities of the observed persons. Furthermore, the developed checklist was used to identify and compare cold related risk factors that indoor and outdoor workers face during their work activities. According to the observers who were assessing cold risks (N=164 times) during various work activities in construction, stevedoring and storage, tourism, fish processing, forestry and road building companies, 8 risk factors (cold air, wind/ air movements, touching cold surfaces, water/ liquids/ damp, protection of extremities against cold, highly varying workload, varying thermal environments and slipperiness) were found to lead most often to some kind of a problem, while 5 other factors (protective clothing against cold, use of PPE, long-term cold exposure, light work and lighting) were found to cause no problems. Three cold related risk factors: water/ liquids/ damp, protection of extremities against cold and long-term cold exposure were rated differently depending on whether the observed work activities were carried out indoors or outdoors. In the group of outdoor work, the ratings of three factors: cold air, varying thermal environments and slipperiness were found to be partly dependent on whether the observed work activities were conducted under cold or very cold temperatures. Finally, it was investigated whether the integration of cold protection with the protection against occupational hazard was achieved successfully by the industrial workers operating in cold outdoor environments. The interviewed workers (N=30) indicated the protection of hands against cold as the most problematic along with feet and head protection.