Digital Magazine

Putting Safety First: Minimizing Risks for Printing Machine Operators

Nearly 400,000 people work in the printing industry in the United States. Despite the challenges the industry has been facing since the advent of digital technologies, the market continues to support more than 21,500 businesses.

Aside from emerging technologies, the industry faces another challenge. Printing machine operators are facing hazards in their workplaces. Some of them are unaware of the dangers that come with working with heavy machinery and the industry in general. In this article, we take a closer look at what employers can do to protect their workforce and prevent accidents and incidents.

The Importance of Safety in Printing Machine Operations

The printing industry may not immediately come to mind when someone mentions challenges with workplace safety. Industries like construction and excavation tend to lead the fatality and injury statistics kept by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and others. However, printing machine operators are facing several hazards in their daily work. Not all of those may be obvious at first sight.

Fatalities may be the exception in the printing industry, but that does not mean that workplace health and well-being are any less important than they are in other sectors. Ill health and injuries cause more than an inconvenience to employers and employees alike. Workers may lose out on salaries and job progression. If their illnesses or injuries are severe, they may also face a long road of recovery complete with detrimental effects on their family and other aspects of workers’ private lives.

For employers, workplace illnesses and injuries mean lower productivity levels, lost work time, and potentially high costs in worker compensation payments. In an industry that is already facing challenging economic circumstances, these costs can make the difference between a company struggling or thriving.

Understanding the Risks: Common Hazards Faced by Printing Machine Operators

We mentioned above that some of the risks faced by printing machine operators may not be immediately obvious. In construction, for example, it is easy to imagine materials or tools falling from a height and hitting a worker in the head.

But what about printing? One of the biggest hazards for machine operators and others within the industry is their exposure to dangerous chemicals. Most printing machine operators are exposed to solvents, inks, adhesives, and pigments. There are also hydrocarbons, acrylates, paper dust, and lead. All of these substances contain chemicals that can have negative health effects on workers in printing plants.

Health Problems Caused by Chemical and Physical Hazards

Without going into too much detail about the individual chemicals, here is an overview of some of the most common health problems faced by printing workers. These health concerns range from irritated mucous membranes to cancers. But they also include neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, according to international research.

Bladder and lung cancer have been among the main illnesses associated with printing workers, but scientists also found connections between working in the industry and developing melanoma, kidney, skin, brain, and breast cancer, to name a few. In short, health risks associated with the printing industry can lead to life-changing and life-limiting illnesses.

While not overly common, printing machine operators are also exposed to physical dangers associated with operating machinery. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has reported cases of fatality caused by electrical faults, falling from a printing press, and being crushed.

Other physical health hazards in the industry stem from the relatively static working position of printing machine operators. Those may not be immediately life-threatening, but they can lead to long-term injuries and lost work days which reduce productivity and profit.

Best Practices for Increasing Safety and Minimizing Risks in Printing Machine Workstations

Increasing safety and minimizing risks faced by workers in the printing industry starts with identifying those risks. Above, we concluded that most workers in the field face a combination of chemical and physical hazards.

Here is an overview of the most effective practices:

  • Educating employees about workplace risks
  • Providing comprehensive training for machine operators
  • Implementing strong safety protocols and procedures
  • Creating ergonomically optimized workplaces

Once these have been identified, the next step consists of educating workers about the risks and how to protect themselves. Another goal of these training sessions is to emphasize the importance of complying with the company’s safe operating procedures and using personal protective equipment (PPE). Understanding the risks increases the likelihood of compliance.

Mitigating physical dangers from machine operations also relies on effective education and training. It should go without saying that all machine operators should be sufficiently trained to use the equipment they are expected to handle. Where hands-on training is not possible, employers need to consider online-based or other remote alternatives.

Safety protocols and procedures need to emphasize the importance of leaving machine guards in place and stopping machinery before attempting to make adjustments. Regular equipment maintenance is equally important to ensure proper function or spot problems early.

Building ergonomically sound work environments also contributes to workers’ long-term health and limits the risk of injuries from repetitive movements and other physical problems.

Preventing Accidents: Tips and Techniques to Avoid Common Hazards in the Printing Industry

What else can employers do to protect their teams? Here are five top tips:

  1. Provide first aid training to your employees. In the case of an accident, this will give you the peace of mind of having first responders on site.
  2. Ensure all facilities have fully stocked first aid kits relevant to the specific environment. This will allow first responders to react more effectively.
  3. Review work schedules and shift patterns to avoid workers suffering from fatigue. Being tired increases the risk of making a mistake or mishandling a piece of equipment.
  4. Issue your teams with high-quality PPE and ensure every team member understands how to properly use their gear.
  5. Schedule regular training sessions to help new hires or temporary staff familiarize themselves with your company’s safety procedures.


Health hazards in the printing industry are not always obvious, and not all workers are necessarily well informed of the risks they’re facing day to day. Educating workers and implementing strong safety protocols helps keep printing machine operators and others safe. Businesses benefit by reducing lost work time, minimizing compensation payments, and increasing overall productivity. Putting safety first is an investment in your company’s future.

Sun Chemical HD Plates

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