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Throwing the Book at the Printing Industry

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Printing industry workers reside in illustrious company.  Benjamin Franklin, Orville Wright, Johannes Gutenberg – these great men all had their hand in the printing business.

Who would have thought a profession, that continues to produce some of the world’s greatest treasures, has been linked to cases of severe industrial diseases among those who work in it?  And has been responsible for many gruesome workplace accidents?

Printing industry employers have a duty to protect workers from workplace accidents and industrial disease.  However, as we shall see, many in the industry are falling far below the expected health and safety standards.

Printing industry accidents

The printing industry is a significant employer in the United Kingdom. There are approximately 340,000 workers employed in over 15,000 companies, making the industry one of the largest employers in the country.

It is also one of the most dangerous in terms of health and safety.

The rate of machinery-related accidents is five times higher than in other industries.  Almost three-fifths of injuries happen while the injured person is cleaning or preparing the printing machinery, ie ‘make-ready’. One in five such accidents occur upon freeing a blockage in a machine. Cuts, strains and pinch injuries are rife.  Many of these accidents can be easily prevented. The cause is often inadequate risk assessment, poor use of machine guards and inadequate training.

Then there is the deadly exposure to chemicals.

Industrial disease and printing industry chemicals

Bladder cancer

A large body of medical evidence has linked chemicals used in the printing industry with an increased risk of developing bladder cancer.  For example, a 1987 Swedish study by HS Malker found increased incidences of bladder cancer in pigment and print manufacture, referring to known bladder carcinogens being used in the manufacture of inks in the report.

The time between exposure to the carcinogen and bladder cancer developing averages 20 years, but can be up to 45 years.  Employees who work with (or have worked with) ‘carbon black’ (a substances used to make inks, dyes and other pigments) are most at risk.

Kidney disease

Suffers of kidney disease will eventually lose kidney function  if it remains undiagnosed.  Symptoms range from tiredness and nausea to an increased need to urinate.  Chronic kidney disease can lead to an increased risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Kidney damage has been linked to the inhalation of Toluene fumes.  Toluene is used throughout the printing industry as a solvent.  Inhalation can also cause headaches, dizziness, confusion and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.


Dermatitis is a particular problem in printing - European reports have indicated that it accounts for 65% of cases of ill health in the industry.  Workers responsible for cleaning printing machinery are particularly vulnerable.  The printing industry uses developers, etching solutions, solvents, inks, glues, gums, oils and greases that can all cause skin irritation and half of all workers involved in cleaning litho rollers and cylinders and correcting litho plates will suffer from skin irritations at some point during their careers.

Dermatitis is disfiguring and painful.  Symptoms include:

  • itching
  • rough skin
  • dry skin
  • redness

Employer’s responsibilities

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks and take appropriate action to protect workers from exposure to harmful substances at work.

Employers who expose employees to dangerous chemicals or machinery, and as a result, those employees suffer harm, can be made to pay compensation.  This applies even if the exposure occurred decades ago.

For victims of industrial disease or workplace accidents, the first step toward claiming compensation is to contact a personal injury law specialist, especially if you are making an historical claim.

At IBB, our industrial diseases team, led by Alan Jolliffe, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for industrial disease . To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on  0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.

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