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Striving for safety

Oct 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial printing has an injury and illness rate lower than overall manufacturing: five incidents per 100 full-time workers in 1999, compared to 9.2 percent for manufacturing in general. Nonetheless, serious accidents do occur, including loss of eyesight from a chemical splash, or permanent back injury and disability from improper lifting on the bindery line. And during a recent 12-month period, 25 printing employees in the U.S. lost their lives on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor.

When any company has a high frequency of accidents, its workers' compensation premiums increase. (See Table 1, p. 26) The indirect costs of accidents — training and compensating a replacement worker, repairing damaged property, investigating the accident and implementing corrective action — also touch the printer's bottom line. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the ratio of indirect costs to direct costs varies from 20:1 to 1:1. The lower the direct costs of an accident, the higher the ratio of indirect to direct costs.

To counter this, several Missouri and Kansas printers have developed comprehensive safety programs in cooperation with the Printing Industries Assn. of the Heartland (PIAH) (Kansas City, MO), with encouraging results. They have reduced injuries, lowered associated costs and enjoyed a partnership with OSHA.


In 1996, we at PIAH asked OSHA to develop a centralized safety training and consulting resource. Earlier, we had contacted Gary Reniker, national safety director of INX International Ink Co. (Elk Grove Village, IL), a graphic arts ink and coating manufacturer. Reniker helped us identify the relevant sections of OSHA's Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910, a 1,500-page document.

We asked the OSHA regional office (region seven in Kansas City, MO) to review our materials and methods. We did so with some trepidation, fearing that OSHA might crack down on our local industry should our materials fall below standard. But the staff was supportive and helpful.

OSHA helped PIAH fine-tune our training programs, and encouraged us to apply for a Susan Harwood Training Grant. The program provides funds to nonprofit organizations to conduct safety and health training and education in the workplace. In 1997, PIAH received a two-year grant for $191,000.

PIAH has used the grant money and its partnership with OSHA to:

  • train 2,500 employees at 88 firms on safe work practices

  • develop the industry's first safety Train-the-Trainer course in conjunction with corporate sponsor INX

  • develop the nation's first printing-specific PrintGuard Comprehensive Safety and Health Program (CSHP). (INX is also the national corporate sponsor of the CSHP manual.)

In October of 1997, we hired Brian Rutherford as director of environmental health and safety. Rutherford coordinates safety training with printers on location, using site-specific materials. He also administers safety audits and assists PIAH members with OSHA inspections.

“The common denominator of firms with low accident and injury rates is evidence of a CSHP,” says Rutherford. “It essentially is Total Quality Management applied to the world of safety.”

According to Rutherford, the basic elements of CSHP are:

  • management leadership and involvement
  • employee participation
  • hazard identification
  • hazard control
  • employee training
  • program evaluation.

(See for a full checklist to gauge the effectiveness of your safety program.)


Our safety programs have been so successful that the industry continues to use and pay for these services. PIAH PrintGuard safety training is now offered in other PIA affiliate regions, including Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

In the fall of 1999, PIAH also created a PrintGuard Consortium of seven participating printers. Member companies can get help developing and maintaining a safe work environment, including establishing a safety committee, maintaining required OSHA documents, training employees in OSHA-required areas and more.

Many PIAH safety-training participants say the program has helped them protect employees as well as their bottom lines. James Printing Co. (Kansas City, MO), a 50-employee sheetfed company, developed and continues to refine its safety policies and practices using PIAH's PrintGuard materials. The firm offers regularly scheduled safety classes, which employees attend on company time, and a safety committee with rotating participation. The owner and top managers sit in on both the training and the committee meetings.

Management has found the firm's proactive safety initiative to be worth the effort. “We have two reasons to maintain a commitment to safety,” comments president Evan James. “First, the well-being of our employees is our top priority. Second, having few or no accidents protects our bottom line in many ways — especially in lowering workers' comp premiums.”

Indeed, James points out that James Printing Co. has lowered its workers' comp experience modifier from .97 to .68 over four years, saving the company about $12,300 annually.

Banta Publications Group/Kansas City (Kansas City, MO), a 420-employee web plant, recently achieved a record one million hours without a loss-time accident. “At the local and corporate levels, Banta's top management demonstrates a commitment to employee safety in many visible ways,” says Jeff Sevick, safety and environmental coordinator with the Kansas City facility.

The company shuts down equipment as needed to allow employees to attend safety training. The corporate CEO reviews data on all loss-time accidents. And to prevent back injuries, the company has purchased pneumatic lifts to raise and lower material. (See “Applying ergonomics in postpress operations,” p. 28.)

Sevick says the company estimates the annual savings in work-comp premiums at this location to be in excess of $100,000 in two years.


The once nearly unthinkable option of contacting OSHA has paid dividends. We've built a solid ongoing relationship: The agency realizes that our local industry is putting forth a good-faith effort in its active voluntary compliance activities. PIAH, in turn, better understands OSHA's priorities and how it operates.

Working with OSHA has also reinforced at least one printer's attitude toward safety compliance. Spangler Graphics (Kansas City, KS), a division of Kelmscott Communications, is a sheetfed and web printer. The company now gives safety training to its employees (it intends to form a safety committee soon), and is identifying and controlling workplace hazards. Spangler Graphics also trains its temporary employees on workplace safety.

“We can't withdraw and stick our heads in the sand, or throw up our hands and hope an inspector doesn't find us out,” observes Colin Walterson, vice president of operations. “Nor is it productive for our companies to view regulatory agencies as the ‘enemy,’ or to see ourselves as under siege. Our best interest and that of our employees will be served if we can explore ways to partner with these agencies and jointly come up with resources to help businesses keep the workplace safe and in compliance with regulations.”

Former adversary now a resource

Since the founding of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) 31 years ago, the agency has had an adversarial reputation in our industry.

While controversy surrounding the agency is likely to continue, OSHA's priorities and methods are no longer shrouded in secrecy, thanks in part to the Freedom of Information Act and a 1994 initiative to reinvent the agency. Some of OSHA's business partnership activities might even surprise printing company owners. OSHA operates a Fine Reduction Program, for example, that can entitle a company to a maximum 95 percent reduction on citations. It also annually awards $4 million in training grants (including the Susan Harwood Training Grant, which the Printing Industries Assn. of the Heartland received).

“We have evolved from an enforcement agency to an organization with much broader capabilities,” says Charles E. Adkins, OSHA region seven administrator. “An OSHA area office now offers more compliance assistance; includes partnerships with industry, labor and other stakeholders as a part of its day-to-day operations; and is generally easier for the public to access. Any individual or group can have a positive relationship with OSHA and their local area office. They just need to take the first step.”

What OSHA looks for

During a 12-month period ending September 2000, OSHA inspected 648 printers, of which 433 were cited for one or more violations. A total of $464,497 in fines were levied — an average of $1,072 per company. In cases of repeated, serious and/or willful violations, the agency has been known to heavily penalize a company, such as an Arkansas printer that had 29 violations (including one that caused an amputation) in May 2000. The printer incurred fines of $120,600.

But what, specifically, is OSHA looking for? The agency's website, www.osha. gov, reveals what standards printers most commonly miss. See Table 1 and Table 2 on p. 26 for clues about what OSHA monitors.

Table 1
Top 10 workers' comp injuries by severity and frequency
Rank Cause of injury Frequency Average cost*
1 Strain or injury by lifting 15.4% $7,131
2 Due to repetitive motion 9.4 $12,003
3 Cut/puncture/scrape by object being handled 9 $951
4 Caught in or between machine, machine parts 6 $6,810
5 Cut/puncture by hand tool (not powered) 5.2 $750
6 Strain or injury by pushing or pulling 4 $8,780
7 Struck or injury by falling/flying objects 3.6 $2,968
8 Fall or slip injury on the same level 3.5 $3,681
9 Striking against or stepping on stationary object 3.3 $2,524
10 Foreign body in eye 3.2 $233
Source: Daniels & Henry Agency (St.Louis), based on printing firms in the MoPrint Workers Compensation Trust, 1993-2000
* Medical and indemnity costs
Table 2
Top 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations
Rank Description No. cited Penalty Average fine
1 Hazard communication 126 $21,507 $171
2 Lockout/tagout 76 $56,133 $739
3 Machines, general requirements 72 $177,066 $2,459
4 Mechanical power — transmission apparatus 54 $27,969 $518
5 Flammable and combustible liquids 37 $12,338 $333
6 Electrical, wiring methods 31 $5,640 $182
7 Portable fire extinguishers 30 $5,339 $178
8 Electrical systems design 28 $9,857 $352
9 Log of injuries, illnesses 27 $2,350 $87
10 Powered industrial trucks 26 $13,815 $531
Source: Printing & Publishing, SIC Group 27, for the period of Oct. 1999-Sept. 2000 (