Safety First!


"The platen press is as dangerous or as safe as the operator makes it. Student operators should follow common sense safety practices until each becomes a habit."

The following is an excerpt from the 1953 edition of Platen Press Operation by George J. Mills. (More information on the book can be found here.) Quotes from the book are italic and the other comments are my interjections/self-reminders.

1) When feeding, stand erect in front of the platen with weight evenly distributed on both feet.
Comfortable shoes are also important, because you'll be doing a lot of standing.

2) Run the press at a speed at which it may be readily fed.
Shaving a few minutes off of your print run really isn't worth smashing a hand.

3) Avoid wearing long sleeves, long neckties, or loose clothing which may become entangled in the moving parts.
This also includes scarves, jewelry and long hair. Fashion has it's place, but that place is not behind the press.

4) Do not reach into the press for a mis-fed sheet after the platen begins to close.
Let it go. It's not worth it.

5) Do not reach into any other mechanism of the press while it is in motion.
Always good to remember with any large machine.


6) Keep the floor clean of oil and paper to insure a firm footing around the machine.
I've been guilty of ignoring this one in the past. I like to throw misprints on the floor to get them out of the way. But I've reformed - imagine slipping and hitting your head on the press...

7) Do not oil or clean the press while it is in motion.
My press is treadle operated instead of motorized, so this one is easy.

8 ) Stop the press when it is necessary to clean a print from the top sheet.
You're not as fast as you think you are. And you like your hands.

9) If it is necessary to be away from the press while it is running, remove the paper from the feed board.
Not applicable. If I'm in the other room and the press is running, we're haunted.

10) Give undivided attention when feeding. Avoid distracting conversation or horseplay.
This is a tough one. It takes all of my self-control to give undivided attention to anything. But this is the most important rule. Printing while too distracted (or hungry, or tired, or rushed) can really be devastating to your print job, your machine, your hands... Printing takes a lot of planning in advance. We don't do "last minute" for this particular reason.

11) Be alert for strange sounds from the press which may indicated that something is wrong.
Printing presses are like babies in this way. If they're making unusual noises, you probably need to check on them.

These could easily be dubbed The 11 Commandments of Press Safety. (In fact, they should probably be printed a poster that hangs on the wall of every print shop. Hmm... idea!) It can be very easy in a "modern" print shop to get distracted or attempt to multitask while printing. It's really important to maintain a healthy respect for the printing press. It's older than you, it's bigger than you, and it deserves your respect.


I've got a few of my own print shop rules as well. Want to hear them? Read on.

Sara's Rules for Press Room Health, Safety, and General Happiness:

1) Keep your phone near the press at all times.
Most of the time, I print while alone in the shop. God forbid something was to go drastically wrong, it would be really important to be able to get a hold of someone.

2) Keep your mind active.
While I'm printing I like to listen to radio shows, music, audio books, anything to keep my mind fresh. I find that this type of mental multitasking keeps me on task and keeps me from spacing out. Plus, it keeps me from feeling like I'm stuck in repetition all day.

3) Do one thing at a time.
E-mail, phone calls, etc. are for office time. Printing is for press room time. The two rooms are only separated by a door, but it's an important distinction. Those kind of distractions are the ones that are hand smashers.

4) If you're sick, stay home.
Printing is a physical activity. It's a work out. It requires a lot of you. And when I'm sick, I'm not at my best. No deadline is worth botching a job or smashing a hand.

5) Do what you love.
Being self-employed is a great way to ensure that you love what you do. But anything you get up in the morning to do for a living eventually becomes "work." If I don't want to be here, it usually means I need to take a day to do something else. (Printing when you'd rather be elsewhere is a horrible way to spend a day. All that repetition and time for your mind to wander...) I usually head home on those sorts of days. I take a walk or a nap, read a book, do some knitting, and hang out with my cats. The following day (when inevitably, I'll have started to miss it), I'll return to the shop and love it all over again.

Photos by Karen K. Wang. For more of the photo shoot she did at our old shop, and to see all of her other great work, visit her blog. (And make sure to see this one - my hubby is cute!)