Hazards in the Printing Industry

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Lithograph printing machine in a factory.
Lithograph printing machine in a factory. (Image: TonyBaggett/iStock/Getty Images)

If you run a print shop, you should be aware of the potential and typical industry hazards so you can evaluate your own shop and take steps to prevent problems. Whether you use lithography, flexography, screen printing, gravure or letterpress printing processes, keeping your staff safe helps you keep the presses running at full capacity.

Chemicals and Waste

Most print shops produce wastewater byproducts. This wastewater can contain numerous hazardous materials, including cleaning solvents, chemicals and ink. Cleaning agents found in cleaning cloths can include methanol, benzene, trichloroethylene or methylene chloride. Waste ink can contain chemicals such as lead, barium or chromium that require special disposal methods. Negative and print development processes can also produce hazardous chemicals, including silver or corrosive substances that require special handling.

Combustible Dust

Cutting paper and using spray powder in offset printing are common tasks, but fires or explosions can result from the combustible dust that accumulates. You have a combustible dust problem if you have 1/32 of an inch of dust covering 5 percent or more of your shop’s surfaces, according to Printing Industries of America, an industry organization. Minimizing fine particles also helps keep your motorized equipment from wearing out prematurely.

Supplies

Keeping employees safe while minimizing injuries keeps your print shop operating at full speed. Train your employees to use proper lifting techniques to carry heavy boxes of paper, chemicals or printed materials so back strain and other injuries are minimized, and consider providing power equipment to help your employees move heavy objects without injuring themselves. Improper storage of large boxes in aisles or unstable stacks can present crushing and tripping hazards in the stockroom. Workplace injuries can draw the scrutiny of regulators and reduce productivity.

Machinery

Printing press machinery poses several potential hazards, especially when operators are not paying attention or are not trained properly. When your employees make adjustments or prep a machine for printing and do not lock the presses first, injury can result. Larger presses require sturdy steps to allow operators to adjust the equipment; absent is equipment, operators can hurt themselves by using a crate or other inappropriate device to reach the controls. Press operators also risk serious injury if allowed to wear loose clothing or jewelry or to wear their hair long, as these materials can get caught in the press.

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