From October 2013 through September 2014, printing and printing-related businesses paid nearly three quarters of a million dollars in penalties stemming from violations cited in inspections by the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Most of the citations and fines had to do with issues that most commonly bring printing businesses to the attention of OSHA: hazard communication standards; lockout/tagout procedures; and general requirements for machine guards and safety features.

Details for the period, the most recent for which data are available, can be found here. The numbers refer to citation history within OSHA’s North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code 323, Printing and Related Support Activities, covering commercial and publication printing.

The total penalty for establishments in the subsector was $735,464. The most costly category was general requirements for all machines, where citations led to $118,393 in fines. Second in costliness were penalties for lockout/tagout violations ($116,717). Lockout/tagout also was second in number of citations (91), behind hazard communication (128).

These numbers may be compared with those for 95 other three-digit NAICS codes in this summary for the same period. In all, OSHA cited companies in these categories (including NAICS 323) 82,198 times in 25,926 inspections that imposed $141,346,411 in penalties.

Penalties assessed for printing and printing-related businesses amounted to less than half a percentage point of the total. In sum, their dollar value was about half the size of the average penalty for all categories ($1,472,358). NAICS 323 is #24 on the list in number of citations (730). That is less than the average number of citations for all categories (856). NAICS 323 also underwent fewer inspections (197) than the overall average (270).

OSHA’s stance on safety in the printing industry is based in part on its cooperation with an advisory group called the Graphic Arts Coalition (GAC) from 2002 to 2008. This initially was an alliance with Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (PIA/GATF) and the Screenprinting & Graphic Imaging Association International (SGIA). The Flexographic Technical Association (FTA), Gravure Association of America (GAA), and Envelope Manufacturers Association (EMA) came on board later.

GAC’s role was to work with OSHA in promoting a culture of safety and health in printing workplaces. The charter included data sharing, training and advising OSHA personnel, developing best practices for ergonomic safety, and encouraging voluntary participation in OSHA compliance programs. The participants agreed to conclude the effort in June 2008, declaring that the alliance had accomplished a number of its stated goals.

One of these was the creation of an online eTool for ergonomic safety that remains available today. At this portal, OSHA publishes information about minimizing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders from strain, repetitive motion, and other stresses that can occur in printing plants. The eTool, developed with input from the GAC coalition, is divided into process-specific sections for lithography, flexography, and screen printing.

Digital printing and gravure aren’t addressed, and it is fair to ask how thoroughly the eTool—the product of a cooperation that ended seven years ago—takes into account the many injury-reducing automation features that have been engineered into printing equipment since GAC ceased being able to inform OSHA about them.

Perhaps it’s time for OSHA to get updated input from a revived GAC or another group constituted along similar lines. Because OSHA’s perception of hazards in the industry shapes its policies about inspections, citations, and fines, outmoded or incorrect understandings on the agency’s part could be unnecessarily costly for printers.

Three quarters of a million dollars may be only a sliver of the printing industry’s annual income, but no printer ever shrugged off an OSHA penalty as an acceptable cost of doing business. The agency’s scrutiny of the industry continues, and so does the industry’s need to insure that it is being monitored by OSHA as fairly and objectively as possible.