We worry a lot about the environmental impact of the graphics industry but the health of people working at the job of printing and publishing should also be of concern. Putting in long hours at a computer screen, reading and writing are all stressful and can lead to ailments such as repetitive strain injury, headaches, eye stress and back problems. But overusing a mouse and keyboard are far less likely to cause long term health problems than overexposure to chemicals used in print media production.
Chemicals are involved in every part of printing, from platemaking in prepress, fountain solution, inks and coatings on press, through to glues used in finishing. Chemicals are especially important for press operators, both of digital and conventional technologies. Some of them, for instance the phthalates used in some screen printing inks can affect male hormones. The ill-effects of substances such as the aromatic hydrocarbons (like toluene and xylene) used in publication gravure include dizziness and drowsiness but they may also affect the central nervous system in other sinister ways.
It therefore makes considerable sense for company owners to have some sort of health oversight in order to monitor the well-being of operators. If diseases such as asthma, dermatitis or cancers are associated with a particular substance, this is obviously even more urgent. If adverse effects can be identified early, further harm can be mitigated by changing shift patterns or adapting processes and chemistries, say for instance using a different ink recipe.
Health monitoring in the workplace can be set up much like any other process with, for instance, regular assessments within a department or a simple reporting process. Health can also be part of employee review processes, which would include not only physical well-being assessments, but also mental and emotional ones. In large organisations there may even be the need for a dedicated job role within Human Resources.
Ensuring that the local environment for employees won’t kill them is good business sense, because it is about looking after a company’s most valuable asset, its people. Taking care in this way protects the health of workers, and of the business, today and in the future.
This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.