The use of printing press spans across multiple sectors including Government, Political space, small, medium and large enterprises, cinema education and medical care. The sector also uses multiple raw materials where printing can be done in paper, plastic sheets, stones, mud, metal, cloth and glass. The sector has experienced extensive technological progress from screen printing to 3D printing. The extensively bright and jazzy field with its creative vibrancy hides the monochromatic conditions of workers in this field. In addition to selling their labour for wage, they also sell their health being exposed to various chemicals in this sector.
The printing work can be classified into four categories of work (Pre-press, Make Ready, Press and Post Press) and evinces dismal and poisonous working conditions in all these categories.
Pre-Press : This work involves designing mostly using computer based graphic designing and converting the design into plates or films based on the technology to be used for printing. This process not only uses various chemicals but the workers are also exposed to UV(ultra-violet) radiation. The workers are not provided any safety measures for handling the chemicals or to prevent UV exposure. These exposures can result in organ disorders involving liver, lungs or kidneys, nervous disorders and cancer. A worker who was working in making positive-negative film making in a newspaper magazine is afflicted with Asthma and Tuberculosis and is languishing in poverty.
Make – Ready : The plates or films that are generated in pre-press process is now fitted within the printing machine. In this process, there are several chemicals including alcohol, n-Hexane, Kerosene, Reducer used for cleaning the printing machine. The nasal inhalation of these chemicals can result in pulmonary and/or nervous disorders. Specifically, n-Hexane chemical is known to cause nervous disorders. The cleaning process is continuous in the printing process as workers need to constantly monitor the printing and clean and hence the workers are exposed continuously to these chemicals. These workers experience irritations in eye and skins. The chemicals are also released to air and sewage, thus causing environmental degradation.
Press : The process of printing is called press and involves the raw materials such as paper, plastic, glass, metal etc on which the printing is done and the dye and other liquid chemicals added for printing. The dye and acid used in the process depends on the chosen material for printing. In addition to the exposure in skin when handling these chemicals, inhalation can cause organ disorders. The printing machines also exude large amount of heating. In order to prevent the machine from heating and from dust and other pollution, most of the printing press are housed in cooling environment without adequate ventilation. The exhaust fans which can remove the chemical particles to outside (and thus can cause environmental pollution) are retained in the room, thus exposing the workers continuously to such chemicals.
The press work is not continuous but rather predominantly seasonal, thus workers have to work continuously with no breaks for days sometime, especially during election or festivals, the work pressure increases. Due to this, lots of workers are kept in contractual position with very few workers in permanent position. During high production, workers will be under tremendous pressure to work continuously for two to three days. Workers suffer both physically and psychologically when exposed to such high work pressure.
In addition, printing industry has been undergoing technological and mechanical innovations. When new technologies and machines are introduced to increase productivity and quality, existing workers are displaced. With no permanent employment, exhausting working conditions and no opportunities to learn new technologies, they either migrate to other sectors or to industries which still employ older technologies at lower wages. A worker who was working in ‘letter-press’ technology could not find any new job as mini offset printing replaced the older technology and survives with lesser wages due to previous experience in binding. Others are moving to unskilled employments such as security or peon. In short, there is no recognition of skills, wages or permanency in this sector.
Post – Press : The post press processing involves several refining and post processing such as binding, lamination, embossing, foiling, cutting, punching etc. These processes also include chemicals and UV radiation inducing technologies. In addition, they can also cause other physical hazards as in cutting and punching which can pose danger to hands if not properly handled. As the mechanism is self propelling, the workers need to be extra careful. Hand injuries, minor and major, are common in the industry. In addition, workers are also involved in erecting the flex banners and boards which are dangerous and are usually done with no protection. A worker, who was putting up a board for a restaurant in a highway, was killed when the board came into contact with nearby electrical lines. Recently, there were news about a worker who was electrocuted when putting up a banner for a political party and a worker who fell down 30 feet to death while putting up a movie banner. In another incident, a worker named Ramu was trying to remove aan old name board form a shed and was electrocuted. He miraculously survived due to immediate medical intervention.
The lack of awareness on the health and environmental hazards of such work is also prevalent among the workers.
Some immediate solutions can alleviate these conditions:
1. The use of dye and other carcinogenic/radiation inducing chemicals should be either banned or reduced to be used with in permissible limits.
2. Proper safety training should be imparted to workers with adequate amenities and facilities provided at work sites to prevent harmful exposures and dangers.
3. Standard Operating Procedures should be defined in handling hazardous chemicals and proper safety training should be provided. Proper safety equipments should be given in handling technologies which emit radiation. The time for such exposures should be defined and carefully monitored. Proper exit procedures should be defined for workers who will need to leave such conditions in dangerous situations.
4. The raw materials used in printing processes which include dye, paper, chemicals etc are inflammable and hence proper fire safety measures should be provided at work site. Workers should be trained in handling such fire safety measures. Such safety measures must be part of the licensing process for industry.
5. Erection of banners should be monitored and officers should give permissions only with ample safety measures.
All employments include varying degrees of hazards. The lack of awareness in the printing industry allows for exploitative conditions. It is important that workers are made aware of the dangers of such exposures. Regulation of adequate protection and safe working conditions are essential for the health of the workers.