Smart protective solutions for industrial safety and productivity in the cold (SmartPro)

The problem addressed

In the years ahead, a significant increase in human activity in the Arctic is expected. Several European countries are involved in Arctic business through natural resources, oil and gas, mining, fisheries, the growing tourism sector, transport and navigation as well as technology suppliers and developers for those fields. Year-round activity involves more challenging climatic conditions for the industries in the North than in the areas further South.

Working in cold climates involves various effects on work, health and performance. The degree of cold exposure is essential for the severity and risks associated with the exposure. Cold environment disturbs not only the machinery of industrial processes and vehicles, but is also very crucial factor to reduce worker’s comfort, performance and safety. In the cold, work capability and productivity decrease and the risk of mistakes and errors increases. A high level of comfort, performance and safety is required in all outdoor occupations during cold season, such as petroleum industry, mining, construction work, and fishery. Peripheral or uncovered body parts, like hands and face, are the first to cool when humans are exposed to cold resulting in reduced manual and psychomotor performance and risk of cold injuries in the face, especially in cold wind.

To prevent disturbances in industrial processes caused by reduced human performance and increased number of mistakes and errors in cold, there is a need for improved cold risk monitoring systems. This project will develop novel solutions for a dynamic risk monitoring system. It will be done by creating early warning systems for indication of critical levels of cold and interactive heating systems for the hands using wireless sensors, wearable computing and auxiliary heating together with material solutions. Smart solutions will be integrated to a protective workwear jacket and novel designed gloves. The information gathered and the algorithms developed in this project will form the basis for a future commercially available sensor-based monitoring system that can provide objective decision-support on safety and work capability for workers during operations in cold climate.

Keywords: cold wearable decision support

Research questions

It is hypothesized that a protective jacket with an integrated wireless sensor system and developed algorithms as well as novel designed and smart technologies utilizing gloves will increase workers’ awareness of critical cold risks and improve their work capability and enhance the industrial productivity in harsh weather conditions.

This project aims to develop novel solutions for improved safety, work capability and productivity of workers during operations in cold climate by sensor-based monitoring, early warning of critical levels of cold and smart heating systems.

The project will provide safe and cost effective monitoring system for detecting risks at an earlier stage (e.g. degradation in manual performance, frostbite) and allowing for monitoring at an individual level. In the future, workers and foremen will have a system for improved decision support. Novel glove solutions and improvement of existing monitoring systems are expected to lead to longer continuous outdoor working time and safe industrial process without shutdowns.

Scientific disciplines: biology/biochemistry, medicine/public health, ergonomics

Expected outputs

The expected outcomes will lead to smarter and safer work environments for several potential stakeholders in industries, such as the petroleum, mining, construction, fisheries, and rescue authorities, where workers are frequently exposed to harsh weather environment. Integrating wireless sensors in protective clothing and gloves will provide an early warning mechanism of critical level of cold exposure on work site and on an individual level in real time. Improved manual performance enhances industrial processes by minimizing errors. Monitoring systems will improve the decision–making in critical work operations, and furthermore improve safety, work capacity and efficient resource exploitation on the workplaces. Knowledge gathered from the smart applications could be used as a basis for the dynamic risk management in the industry. Results of the project can be transferred to different levels of stakeholders since both simple and comprehensive solutions will be created.


WP1 – Indication of critical level of cold (Corresponding partner: SINTEF)

In petroleum processing plants in the Arctic, exposure to wind, sea water spray, precipitation and freezing temperatures, limits operations and occasionally may cause the plants to shut down. To assess critical limits for safe work operations the Wind Chill Index (WCI) is commonly used as an indicator of cold stress [1, 2]. Cold stress is likely to reduce comfort, performance and safety. The WCI calculates the reduced air temperature felt by the body on exposed skin due to the flow of air, and based on this gives an estimate on risk of frostbite of exposed skin. The wind is measured 10 meters above ground level and temperature measured 2 meters above ground level. However, the plants are huge and the conditions vary inside the plant area depending on the level of shielding and technical preventive measures implemented. As a result, unwanted shut downs occur even though the conditions are within acceptable WCI-limits on several sites on the plants. To avoid shut down of the plant, precise and relevant measurements of actual working conditions are needed.

In the Coldwear project SINTEF has already developed a prototype work wear jacket with integrated temperature, humidity and activity sensors [3, 4]. The prototype makes contactless measurements of skin temperature on the hand, as well as temperature and humidity measurements outside and inside the jacket. The activity sensors can measure hand and arm movement, e.g. for indicating work type and rest periods, or estimating hand-arm vibration exposure. WP1 aims to develop an algorithm for monitoring cold stress for workers, based on data from an adapted version of this prototype.

WP2 – Smart protection of hands in the cold (Corresponding partner: FIOH)

Peripheral body parts like hands are the first to cool when humans are exposed to cold [8]. There are four basic reasons for that: 1) hands have large surface area to loose heat and small mass to produce heat, 2) in whole body cooling the circulation of peripheral body parts is decreased to minimize heat loss, 3) thermal insulation of handwear is often smaller than required to make it possible to handle the tools, and 4) handwear is sometimes temporarily even removed. Consequently, manual performance (composed of tactile sensitivity, force production, coordination of gross and fine movements and manual dexterity) of the worker decreases in early stage of cooling in the cold [9]. Moreover, hand cooling causes discomfort and eventually cold pain which disturbs mental and psychomotor processes. Also cold protective handwear decrease manual performance especially in tasks where good tactile sensitivity and finger dexterity are needed [10]. Use of thin contact gloves under the thicker cold protective gloves is one solution to maintain required manual performance. However, frequent doffing and donning of gloves is not practical in industrial work.

Increased safety and performance for the new gloves will be provided in the WP2 by 1) Creating an optimal distribution of thermal insulation in the handwear, 2) Selection of optimal materials for tactile sensitivity in different parts of the handwear, 3) Selection of optimal materials for grip properties (friction) in different parts of the handwear, 4) Developing a smart heating system for those parts of handwear, which cannot be insulated properly, 5) Integrating a wireless warning system to the heating system, 6) Integrating the properties of touch screen pen in the fingertips of the gloves to improve the use of control devices, and 7) Developing new design of the hand wear for cold conditions. Moreover, 8) the role of whole body heat balance, and hence the circulation in hands, will be taken into consideration and the measurements will be done in two conditions: in whole body thermoneutrality (with good circulation in hands) and in a cooled state (with diminished circulation).

The aim of the WP2 is to develop novel gloves which have new design and optimal thermal insulation supported by auxiliary smart heating system and which could maintain maximal manual performance although worn on. The key elements of the WP2 are maximal manual performance combined with optimal balance between thermal insulation and smart auxiliary heating. Protective properties of gloves against cold, wind, and water, are customized depending on the needs of industry.

WP3 – Management and dissemination (Corresponding partner: FIOH)

The WP3 will coordinate the activities of all partners and overview the project progress. The project coordinator will be responsible for the internal management and administration of the project, and will provide annually progress report and final report at the end of the project according to reporting regulations. Each partner will be responsible for providing administrative and progress information and cost statements to the project coordinator and to national financers.

The WP3 will form a consortium agreement, provide day-to-day co-ordination of the project so as to promote high quality research within the deadlines and the budget constraints, assist partners with the exchange of information and resources, and promote collaboration between partners.

In this WP the dissemination of information from the results will be delivered to stakeholders, such as mining, petroleum, construction, fisheries, through workshops and seminars, as well as other researchers through conferences, workshops, papers and reports. Workshop-type regular meetings between all partners will be organized both in situ consisting cooperative working, integration of knowledge from all WPs, and communication with stakeholders. The meetings are organized in rotation of the partners. Additional meetings via video connections will be organized regularly. At least one project member will annually take part in Saf€ra seminars and a publishable summary of the project will be provided to be published by the Saf€ra project.

Associated deliverables

Project dissemination activities
Intermediate report published on 2018-07-02
This report describes the dissemination activities in the SmartPro project.

Download deliverable

SmartPro final report
Final report © 2018 Editors and Finnish Institute of Occupational Health published on 2018-07-02
SmartPro: presentation at 3rd SAF€RA symposium
Presentation CC BY-SA published on 2016-11-02

Participating researchers

Jussila Kirsi (FIOH, Finland) — project coordinator

Hilde Færevik (SINTEF, Norway)

Tuhkanen Pertti (FIOH, Finland)

Funding organizations

RCN (Norway)

FIOH (Finland)

More details

Duration 2015-04 to 2018-04
Contact email
More information

Information last updated on 2016-11-02.

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