Regarding the safety of nature trails, the key feature to monitor is the strength of the ice, which cannot be estimated solely on the basis of its thickness. Climate change and its consequences are having a significant impact on the structure of ice and, thereby, its bearing capacity.
VTT has jointly developed occupational safety and practices relating to recreational use of trail skating, skiing and walking routes on natural ice in Helsinki, Espoo, Tuusula and Järvenpää. The practices used by each city were mapped, suggestions for their improvement were jointly drawn up, and the best operating models were created. The results will be applied to the organisation of ice-route maintenance and risk-based decision-making related to such work: when can the routes be safely opened, when and how should they be maintained, and when should they be closed.
New practices were developed with respect to issues such as communication. The primary approach involves working in pairs on the ice, but this is not possible for all municipalities due to limited resources. It is therefore important to arrange a communication link, for example through a VHF telephone connection or similar technology, between a single employee maintaining an exercise trail and a colleague or manager on shore.
All parties maintaining nature trails on ice, such as municipalities and hiking companies in addition to trail users, will benefit from the results of the project. Cities will be able to apply their expertise more extensively to activities on ice, thereby avoiding unnecessary risks when creating new routes. In addition to developing their own practices, the municipalities aim to help local residents see that maintenance work takes account of adequate occupational safety criteria.
The project will now continue on the basis of two new theme areas. In the first, VTT will develop measurement and analytical technology for measuring the bearing capacity of ice. The second theme will involve the development of floating capabilities in work machines, to protect workers if a machine falls through the ice.
The project began in June 2017 and will end in the summer of 2019, funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the municipality of Tuusula and the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Järvenpää. VTT is responsible for the research and all four municipalities are involved.