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January cover story: Safety first

Jan 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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Nearly 60,000 full-time jobs in the printing industry have been lost since 1999, resulting in a smaller number of workers taking on a larger amount of work and potentially putting each individual at a higher risk for injury. Accidents in the pressroom might not happen every day, but workplace injury statistics provide a valid reason for safety concerns.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the expenditures associated with occupational injuries and illnesses cost businesses up to $171 billion per year. This money comes directly out of company profits, in some cases measuring up to five percent of total revenue. In addition, a 2003 study by The Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that lost production time, including absence from work and modified workdays, costs an estimated $61.2 billion annually.

Implementing an organized safety program — whether it consists of conducting management assessments, hiring a staff safety coordinator or forming a committee of employees — can dramatically cut your company's work-related injury rate and makes financial sense. OSHA claims thatworkplaces can reduce their injury and illness costs by up to 40 percent, simply by instituting a formal health and safety management system.

Get with the program

While the results of a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study show that the occurrence rate of injuries and illnesses in the printing and publishing industry has been decreasing and continues to decrease — the most recent numbers, tabulated in 2001, show 4.6 incidents per every 100 full-time employees, down from five per 100 in 1999 — the cost of accidents is on the rise. Between 1998 and 2001, the price tag on workplace casualties in all industries rose 13.5 percent. From 2000 to 2001 alone, the increased cost accounted for an additional $1.6 billion in expenses.

Gary Jones, GATF (Sewickley, PA) manager of environmental, health and safety affairs, believes that all printers are sincere in their safety efforts, but says they must re-evaluate their approach to the issue. “While some printers are proactive, integrating safety procedures into everyday practices,” he observes, “many respond to safety concerns reactively.” Jones often receives harried phone calls after an incident has occurred. “Every one of those accidents could have been prevented,” he contends.

Many printers mistakenly believe that the addition of new, automated technology will lessen the risk of accidents. While new equipment featuring increased mechanization can ease the physical requirements of some pressroom tasks, automation has in some cases merely contributed to a change in types of injuries. The rise in musculoskeletal disorders (also known as soft-tissue injuries), such as strains and sprains, may be a result of the repetitive manual movements required to prepare the machinery for production.

“The worst thing to do is to treat safety as an isolated event,” continues Jones. “It should be managed equally with other critical business issues.” But small businesses often find it more difficult to launch a safety program than large companies.

Equal opportunity

Matt Kaarlela, vice president of regulatory affairs for PIA MidAmerica (PIAMA) (Dallas), notes that while much of the safety training and programming is designed for larger printers, smaller shops are required to follow the same regulations. “Small companies may not have the time or money to learn,” he says. “These printers don't realize there's a problem until they get fined.”

Recognizing that small companies have been underserved by occupational health and safety regulation initiatives, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a Safety and Health Resource Guide for Small Businesses, listing contacts for government agencies, consultants and other organizations that offer assistance. For more information, call (800) 35-NIOSH or visit OSHA also offers free, confidential onsite services to small businesses; find out more at

Insurance carriers will usually provide free resources, but Jones warns that they will likely prioritize their own interests. Expect their advice to center around loss potential, he says; it's doubtful they will evaluate all of the OSHA compliance-related concerns.

Creating a safety culture

Trojan Litho (Renton, WA), a 148-employee company specializing in high-end commercial printing and graphic packaging, first implemented a safety program in 1997. General manager Wayne Millage wanted to emphasize the value of safety to his employees, and began looking into possible programs. He selected the DuPont Safety Training Observation Program (STOP), which offers onsite safety consulting and training services, materials and workshops. Various DuPont modules target different purposes; Trojan Litho has implemented STOP for Supervision and STOP for Employees, and is considering the STOP for Ergonomics program for 2004. Learn more about DuPont's STOP services at or call (800) 532-SAFE.

Gary Vetch, Trojan's production manager, and Carolyn Perkins, now safety and environmental coordinator, helped to execute the DuPont strategy from the beginning. At the onset, management and a support team spent three hours a week in training seminars for a 14-week period, learning how to objectively evaluate their own and co-workers' behaviors, reinforce safe practices and correcting unsafe acts and conditions. In turn, the safety support team passed the lessons on to the rest of Trojan's staff through ongoing training.

The DuPont program emphasizes the importance of communication. “The biggest value of the STOP program,” says Perkins, “is that it stresses that the quality of your safety program depends on the conversations you have with your employees and building a partnership with them.” Supervisors constantly check in with employees, observe their actions, ask questions, and discuss potential safety concerns and solutions. “Visitors have been asked by employees to wear safety glasses, or to not step in certain areas. They were amazed that our staff would look out for them,” testifies Perkins.

Perkins notes that while Trojan has reduced its injury-related costs dramatically, “the real payoff is that our employees are looking out for one another on the work floor.” Employees carry STOP cards, which include checklists of possible unsafe behaviors and provide space to record observations. Management and supervisors listen to employee suggestions, and work to fix problems quickly. A monthly contest rewards the employee with the most innovative safety proposal with a $25 gift certificate.

A worthwhile investment

The initial investment of approximately $75 per employee has been recovered many times over, according to Perkins. In 1997, Trojan averaged about six lost-time accidents per year. In the past three years, zero time has been lost; only seven minor injuries occurred during 2003. Since beginning STOP, injury costs fell from six figures to less than $6,000.

“So many companies manage by trailing numbers. STOP helps us instead with prevention,” Perkins explains. “We're going out into the workplace to find out how employees are following our rules and if there are hazards out there, which is a lot more effective on our end. The more we proactively do that, there are fewer accident reports, and we can put all of our efforts into production. Safety affects our morale, quality and production. It's everything, really.”

Trojan Litho has been encouraged by OSHA to apply for Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) status, which offers a collaborative relationship with the federal association, promotes effective worksite health and safety programs, and recognizes efforts of employers and staff who have achieved exemplary working conditions. “OSHA was so impressed with our safety culture that they came back and asked us how we did it,” says Perkins. The company is currently working on its VPP application; if chosen, it will be the smallest Washington business to earn the ranking.

Print-specific safety

General safety programs can create a more secure workplace, but what about issues unique to the printing industry? For print-specific equipment and procedures information, consult your state or regional PIA affiliate or GATF/PIA. All PIA members have access to programs, templates or advice from experts who understand their immediate needs.

For Sara Huebner, manager of environmental and safety compliance at Millet the Printer (Dallas), PIA's information proved invaluable. Her company switched to a PIAMA program after following a generic safety-consulting firm's outline for several years. “It was immediately clear that the industry-specific approach was much more suitable for our situation,” she says. “Never before have we had such a positive response from our workforce. They respected the PIA reps as having shared the experience of printshop employees. The reps' ability to speak about specific machinery and problems unique to our responsibilities was infinitely more effective.”

PIAMA has one of the largest regulatory staffs of all of the regional PIA branches, and offers several in-depth options for printers setting up a safety program. Its PrintGuard Train-the-Trainer program, developed in partnership with INX International Co. (Elk Grove Village, IL), consists of a 10-hour OSHA course for general industry and 12 hours of classroom instruction for printers, including a virtual pressroom inspection. Each participant acts as an inspector, critiquing digital photos of workplace setups. “From the comments we get from our classes, this is the most helpful thing we do,” says PIAMA's Kaarlela. “We teach printers to regulate themselves.” PrintGuard reportedly is the only OSHA-approved safety certification program for the printing industry offered in the U.S. For more information and upcoming Train-the-Trainer program dates, visit

Inspection and protection

PIAMA also offers a program called Consultant on Call. The idea was born when nine large printing companies pooled expenses to hire one health and safety expert to serve them all. Now PIAMA members can enroll for quarterly visits from a member of the association's regulatory staff, who performs a mock OSHA inspection and then leads a discussion with staff on a special training topic. The results of the simulated inspection are broken down into an audit report, which offers suggestions for improvement. OSHA has no access to PIA's inspection results; the information on the report is for the company's use only.

“PIA staff interviewed our employees at length, did a walk-through of our plant to assess our current state of compliance and needs, explained the Consultant on Call program and left it to us to decide whether the program was for us or not,” says Debbie Christian, safety coordinator for UMR Communications (Dallas), a 65-employee printer of publications and promotional materials. “After a year with the program, we have training and documentation in place, our staff is much more aware of safety concerns, and I feel more confident of a positive result if we were to have an OSHA inspection.”

Consultant on call

One of the most significant benefits of Consultant on Call is that, in the case of a real OSHA inspection, PIAMA will send a representative to act as the company's health and safety staff member. “If an OSHA rep shows up at a company's door, a lot of printers don't know what to do,” states Kaarlela.

Furthermore, PIA will work with OSHA to negate or reduce fines. “It comes down to understanding what OSHA is and is not legally allowed to do. There are limits to what should be done on a general inspection,” says Kaarlela.

Randy Liedtke, general manager of Complete Printing & Publishing (Carthage, TX), a 42-employee, web and sheetfed printer, joined the Consultant on Call program in April 2002. PIAMA prepared a safety manual for Liedtke's company, which the exec says was worth the effort: “On a recent audit, our insurance carrier reviewed our manual and was so impressed that he recommended a 10 percent reduction in our annual workers' comp premium.”

Small-business advocates

To handle the high volume of calls from smaller printers requesting advice, PIAMA has begun working with small-business advocates to develop safety-training programs. The Texas state government has helped PIAMA co-develop a guide on safety regulations for small printers and contributed publishing and distribution costs. The handbook includes plain-English translations of intricate OSHA statutes. Thousands of printers across the state received a copy and have responded favorably. PIAMA supplies copies to members; you can also contact the small-business section of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality at (800) 447-2827.

Oklahoma is now developing its own safety guide from the Texas template and expects to publish its version later this year. Kansas and Missouri are also exploring the option. For more information on future projects in these states, contact PIAMA at (800) 788-2040.

Leslie Shiers is assistant editor at AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Ergonomics: a print-specific program

In 2001 Congress halted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Dept. of Labor's proposed ergonomic standard, prompting OSHA to work with associations such as GATF/PIA (Sewickley, PA) and SGIA (Fairfax, VA) to share best practices and industry knowledge. (See “Material handling: the bindery's best-kept secret,” September 2002.) OSHA provided GATF/PIA with grant money to create The Ergonomics Training Program, which focuses on specific problems and solutions for the graphic-arts industry. The $79 kit, published this past September, includes “The Ergonomics Guidebook,” a Leadership Guide, pocket cards, fact sheets, a CD-ROM and a video, “Work Smarter, Not Harder.”

Most ergonomic solutions are practical, inexpensive methods of readjusting workstations or modifying behaviors to reduce risk of injury. The GATF guidebook walks managers and safety personnel from front-office tasks through postpress activities, suggesting ways to prevent injuries from contact stress, vibration, and awkward postures or motions. The video illustrates ergonomic concerns and simple actions for prevention as well as avoidance of stresses, strains and other physical problems that may develop over time.

For more information or to order The Ergonomics Training Program, call (800) 662-3916 or visit the online bookstore at

Easy, low-cost safety measures

While developing your company's safety program, a few simple, low-cost measures can be applied to make your pressroom safer in the short run. Don't disable or alter safety systems on your equipment, urges GATF's (Sewickley, PA) Gary Jones, manager of environmental, health and safety affairs. If you own used machinery, contact the manufacturer to see if a retro-fit kit is available to ensure it meets current federal standards.

The most common flaws that Matt Kaarlela, vice president of regulatory affairs, PIA MidAmerica (Dallas), encounters are removed machine guards and disabled interlocks. He suggests performing regular walk-throughs of your work areas, noting if press cylinders are covered and if employees are following proper lockout/tagout procedures.

Stress the importance of wearing personal protective equipment properly. Look for ergonomic improvements to make repetitive movements easier. Designate hazards and encourage employee ideas for a safer, more productive environment.