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Fires in the printing industry

The risk of fire is significant in the UK printing industry. The very nature of the sector's work and the materials involved mean fire hazards are ever-present.

Chief sources of fire and ignition in printing are paper, packaging and highly flammable liquids and driers that are regularly used in the printing process.

According to guidance published by the Fire Protection Association (FPA), major changes in technology have both decreased and increased the fire risk in printing.

The development of water-based inks, for example, has helped to reduce fire hazards in the print process. But other changes, such as the introduction of machines and computers, have increased the risk of business continuity problems relating to the normal course of business as a result of fire.

So it is still the case that given the materials involved in the printing sector – flammable liquids and combustible materials – there is a considerable risk of fire.

However, by implementing effective health and safety practices, training staff and maintaining good housekeeping, companies will be doing all that they can to reduce the risk of fire and the risk to life and property that can result.

This article considers what elements involved in trade printing are susceptible to fire and what companies can do to limit the risk.

Potential sources of fire and ignition

Printing process

All industrial workplace practices carry their share of fire risk, but in the printing industry there are some that are especially significant. These include:

Flammable liquids – such as solvents for inks, like hexane, methylethylketone and acetone.

Inks used in cleaning – such as ethylbenzene, methanol and toluene. White spirit and paraffin are still in common use.

As mentioned previously, there are now a host of aqeuoyis solutions available, which has led to a significant turn from solvents and inks that use flammable liquids. Nevertheless, they remain in use in the industry.

Combustible materials

There are a number of materials used regularly in printing that carry with them significant risk of combustion. These include:

Paper and cardboard – according to the FPA, the most combustible material likely to be present in a printing factory.

Cleaning materials – like rags and cloths used in the cleaning process. These present a hazard, especially if they are contaminated with flammable liquids or mineral oils.

Across premises

Some of these are not specifically related to printing but should still be placed under consideration.

They include:

Pallets – a regular sight in industrial workspaces, pallets represent a significant fire risk. To that end, it is important that they are stored safely and their numbers minimised.

Forklift trucks – separate from the printing process, but often used to transport packaging and other materials. These vehicles use fuel like liquefied petroleum gas and diesel, so it is important that they are factored in.

What you need to do

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), firms employing five or more employees in the printing industry need to have a current written statement of their health and safety policy.

In each premises, a "competent person" should be appointed to advise directors and management on the requirements and stipulations of relevant health and safety legislation.

The competent person needs to undertake a fire risk assessment – a duty set out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. A fire risk assessment is a simple process to assess the potential hazards in the workplace to which employees will be exposed.

It helps identify which precautions should be implemented to ensure the safety of employees and, where possible, the protection of property.

There are also tools and systems firms can put in – such as sprinklers and other fire protection systems – but this will depend on the size of the business.

Safe storage – crucial in order to minimise the risk and spread of fire. Identify the most hazardous materials in the workplace and segregate them accordingly.

Solvent-based inks should be prepared in a fire resistant room and high-value property protected.

Staff training – educating staff as to workplace risks is the key to a safe working environment. Make sure they are fully aware of the findings of the fire risk assessment and ensure they receive fire safety training, with refresher training at set periods.
Further reading

Aviva's Hardfacts sheet on risk management in the printing industry

Fire Safety Guides - A set of guides that you what you have to do to comply with fire safety law and carry out a fire risk assessment

Fire Protection Agency – the UK's national fire safety organisationADNFCR-3408-ID-801217278-ADNFCR

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