Chemicals in printing

Chemicals used in Printing (inks, lacquers, adhesives, cleaning solvents and many others) are substances that can cause ill health if there is exposure. For example, you can breathe in vapours and mists: contact with chemicals can cause skin problems and chemicals may be absorbed through the skin and cause damage in other parts of the body. This section identifies the potential health effects of chemicals used in printing, what you need to do and where you can find out more.

What do I need to know?

Potential health effects of chemicals used in printing include:

  • Solvents and inks can irritate the skin leading to dermatitis
  • Some products can cause skin allergy and asthma (eg UV inks, laminating adhesives)
  • Some solvent vapours can make you dizzy, drowsy and affect your central nervous system
  • Some solvents can damage internal organs (eg liver /kidney) if exposure is over a long period
  • Corrosive acids and alkalis can cause skin burns and eye damage (eg plate developers)
  • Some inks cured by UV can cause cancer and harm to the unborn child (Products supplied in Europe by members of the British Coatings Federation (BCF) and/or European Printing Ink Association (EuPIA) should not fall into this category)

Detailed information on specific chemicals and their health effects can be found in the summary table Printing Process Chemicals and health effects.

Printing process specific guidance can be found in COSHH essentials for Printers.

What do I need to do?

The law, called Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), requires you to adequately control exposure to materials in the workplace that cause ill health by:

  • identifying which harmful substances may be present in the workplace
  • deciding how workers might be exposed to them and be harmed
  • looking at what measures you have in place to prevent this harm and deciding whether you are doing enough
  • providing information, instruction and training
  • in appropriate cases, providing health surveillance

Find out more

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Updated: 2023-04-12