Screen Printing:

Don’t Compromise on Safety with Old Habits

By Kieth Stevens, Contributing Writer

August 29, 2018

Have you ever entered someone else’s house and noticed a certain smell, or looked at the front of someone’s yard and thought why don’t they just get rid of that old truck that hasn’t moved in 10 years?

Sometimes we get stuck in our ways and simply don’t notice things; we take things for granted. “Why should I change? I’ve been doing it like that forever and nothing has ever gone wrong.” This could result in an unsafe work environment.

I’ve been in the printing business for more than 41 years and as I look back at some of the events that have occurred, I’m reminded that most, if not all, work-related accidents could have been avoided if we just stop for a minute ever so often and take a look around to see if something could be improved. It amazes me how often we find ourselves walking over or around an object that is in our way, and we will do so repeatedly for hours, days or even longer before we finally trip on the very thing and perhaps get injured and curse ourselves for not moving it. We simply get lazy. I know I have been guilty of such behavior and I know I will be again. But with age, something called wisdom or experience settles in – some need a slight nudge to learn and others need a smack on the forehead – but in time most usually get the point.

I remember visiting a transfer shop deep in the heart of downtown LA. They bought a few things from the supply distributor that I worked for but even though it was over 17 years ago I still remember how disgusting the floor was. I am used to seeing dirty shops, but this was the worst one that I can remember. I mean, you could twist an ankle the way the ink, dirt or trash was built-up on the floor. I’m not a clean freak in any sense of the word, but this was bad and surely unsafe.

Another thing that I remember was once over 35 years ago we had been working on an old precision 6-color oval machine doing a job for Rick Springfield, no less. During a machine repair, we had removed the safety guard that was on one end of the machine and because we were running behind on the order we simply continued printing without replacing the guard. You know,” we will get to that later when we are done with the order.”  Well you guessed it! We didn’t replace it for several days… maybe even weeks. On the oval machine, the safety guard covers the area where the pallets are whipping around the oval corner to avoid accidents by someone accidentally getting in the way of the pallets. Needless to say, because we never replaced the cover, I was struck by the pallet going around at that end and the next thing I knew, I was lying in a pile of dirty ink containers.  Of course, this would’ve been avoidable.

At that same shop we had a dryer that had a chain drive for the conveyer belt with a guard that was removed to make an adjustment. Again, the guard was not replaced for long time. The night of the annual Christmas party I was left with a new employee to shut the shop down. While I was waiting for the dryer to cool off so that I can stop the belt, I sat on a nearby table and then lifted my foot to rest on the dryer frame. My foot slipped down and got caught in the chain and then the chain and sprocket went through my shoe and crushed my second smallest toe. The machine was trying to continue grinding, but fortunately, the motor didn’t have enough power. So, there I was with my foot stuck and the new employee didn’t know how to turn the machine off. The next thing I know, I was laying on the floor yet again, after the paramedics had taken some bolt cutters and cut the chain. I still have a funky toenail to remind me of that incident! The point is that again the accident could have been avoided by promptly replacing the chain guard and of course, by me being more careful.

Finally, I wanted to point out something that I have seen a lot of when I visit shops and have been guilty of in the past.  I know electricians are expensive but… electricity is a very important part of our factories and should be handled with the upmost care and can, if not respected, cost a ton of money to repair. And let’s face it – if mishandled – it could be fatal. Some shops don’t seem to understand or respect electricity’s strength. Granted this may be an extreme example, but one shop I visited had an open junction box with a fan rigged to cool it down because too much power was passing through it to cause the wires to overheat. Obviously, something is wrong, but the shop seems unwilling to address it until something blows or worse, someone is injured. FIX IT! You will save lives, money by avoiding the unplanned down time or even a fine from the inspectors.

So, take a look around your shop and see if there is anything that you should do to make your life safer and less stressful. That leaky faucet, the drawer that sticks, the slow drain. Is there any amount of unfiltered light in your screen darkroom? What about the vacuum on the exposure table that won’t seal unless you push down on it till it catches? I can go on and on but I think you get the point…

Think of how much better you will feel getting some of the little things fixed and making sure your shop is rendered safer!