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Evaluation of Exposure to Organic Solvents

(February 2011) posted on Tue Feb 22, 2011

NIOSH makes a site visit to determine whether harmful conditions are present and to make proposals for employee safety at a small screen-printing company.

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By Lilia Chen, Maureen Niemeier, Scott E. Brueck

Fire safety
The screen-printing process may involve lacquer thinners or inks, which are flammable. Flammable liquids must be used and stored properly to prevent the build-up of flammable vapors that can ignite easily and start a fire. In addition, sources of ignition, such as pilot lights, static electricity, open flames, sparks from electrical circuits, or welding, must be kept away from flammable vapors (see the section about fire safety below for a link to the National Fire Protection Association’s online guidance on safe storage, handling, and use of volatile substances).

General recommendations for screen-printing companies
So, how can screen printers and management reduce or remove potential hazards? Consider the following actions, in order of preference:

Elimination and substitution Investigate whether non-solvent or low-solvent inks and screen washes can be used. Contact trade organizations, such as the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (, to determine which non-solvent or low-solvent inks or screen washes are available and whether other companies use them successfully. Eliminating or substituting a hazardous chemical is effective because it reduces the need for additional controls.

Engineering controls Improve ventilation in screen-printing areas. Effective ventilation can reduce employees’ exposure to air contaminants substantially. If you have poor ventilation, consult a ventilation engineer to make necessary improvements for your specific environment.

Administrative controls Complete a PPE hazard assessment to determine whether hazards are present that require the use of PPE (safety glasses, protective gloves, respirators). Employees must be trained how to use and maintain their PPE. OSHA requires written documentation that the PPE hazard assessment and employee training have been completed. Information can be found on the OSHA Website (

Implement a hazard-communication program. Such a program includes requirements for MSDSs, container labeling, training, and a written program. Information can be found on the OSHA Website (

Require employees to follow standard operating procedures to reduce evaporation of solvents into the workplace. For example, this would include requiring preparation of materials immediately prior to use and proper disposal or containment of solvent-soaked materials.


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