University of Oulu

Repetitive work in the cold : work ability, musculoskeletal symptoms and thermal and neuromuscular responses in food industry workers

Saved in:
Author: Sormunen, Erja1,2,3
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Physiology
2University of Oulu, Thule Institute, Centre for Arctic Medicine
3Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.3 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: 2009
Publish Date: 2009-09-01
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Oulu for public defence in the Auditorium of Kastelli Research Centre (Aapistie 1), on 11 September 2009, at 12 noon
Reviewer: Professor Alexander Meigal
Docent Jari Ylinen


The objectives of the study were to evaluate factors associated with work ability and musculoskeletal symptoms among food industry workers, to evaluate thermal and neuromuscular responses during repetitive work in the cold and to find out whether cold-induced deterioration in neuromuscular function can be prevented by using additional torso heating or altering work intensity during repetitive work at 4 °C.

A questionnaire study (1,117 respondents) and measurements of physical work strain (18 subjects) were performed among workers in food-processing industry. The impact of changes of ambient temperature (16 subjects) and work intensity (8 subjects) on thermal responses and neuromuscular function was evaluated during repetitive work in laboratory conditions.

The results from the questionnaire study indicated that self-assessed poor work ability and musculoskeletal symptoms were associated with impaired individual health resources and work-related factors, including higher number of years working in the cold, experience of draught and body cooling at work. Measurements during repetitive work in cold food-processing facilities showed that muscular strain was localized in forearm muscles. Laboratory studies showed that compared with 19 °C, repetitive work at 4 °C increased muscular strain in forearm and upper arm extensors significantly only in men, although the level of muscular strain remained lower and mean skin temperature higher compared with women. Working at 4 °C indicated more continuous activation of the working muscles compared with work at 19 °C. By intermittently increasing the workload at 4 °C the more continuous activation could be counteracted, thus leading to lower strain and fatigue of the working muscles. Additional torso heating did not affect muscular strain of the working muscles at 4 °C.

In conclusion, the results indicate a multifactorial feature of work ability and musculoskeletal symptoms among workers in food-processing industry. Gender affects both thermal and neuromuscular responses, which should be considered in the area of work demands and work organization in cold conditions. Altering work intensity could be considered beneficial for reducing muscular strain during repetitive work in cold conditions.

see all

Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 978-951-42-9204-0
ISBN Print: 978-951-42-9203-3
Issue: 1023
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2009. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.