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As a result of ongoing market concerns relating to fires in the Printing Industry, the RISCAuthority has produced RC 39 – Recommendations for fire risk management in the printing industry (Part 1: Printing processes – General Principles), to which RC65: Recommendations fire safety with 3D printing has been added; both documents are filed in ATLAS These are excellent publications and are to be referred to by Consultants for guidance as regards fire risk assessment and control measures specific to the printing trade. While many of the recommendations are directed towards large organisations, they should also be considered for application to smaller business where, despite their size, significant monetary exposures in relation to MD & BI often arise. RC 39 is essentially divided into two parts:


In this section the various fire hazards associated with the printing industry are described, both in general terms and in relation to the various printing processes of lithography, flexography, letterpress printing, gravure printing, digital and screen printing.


The second part of the document provides detailed guidance on a wide range of fire risk management recommendations, including those in connection with fire risk assessment, storage precautions concerning paper and flammable liquids, general fire safety management, and control of ignition sources. The effective completion of risk assessments in compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) are of paramount importance, and enquiries and observations concerning these measures are to be made by all Consultants from which appropriate risk improvements should be raised where required (Technical Bulletin 21 refers).


RC39 concludes with a comprehensive check list covering the following key


  • Fire risk assessment

  • Identification of high value plant and processes

  • Storage of paper and other substrates

  • Storage and use of flammable liquids

  • Pollution control

  • Fire safety management

  • Control of ignition sources

  • Fire protection

  • Staff training


While recognising that RC39 is focused towards major printing facilities, this (and

RC65) represents established “best practice” and should be employed as

appropriate by Consultants in respect of the vast majority of surveys RSS

conducts of printers in the SME sector.

Fundamental risk assessment considerations (details of which are contained

within the pages of RC39) shall be particularly focused towards the type of

printing processes and plant encountered and the nature of the raw materials

employed, including flammable solvents, blanket washes and inks. Significant

developments have been made in recent years in the development of non

flammable (or, at least, less flammable) alternatives to some of the highly volatile

solvents traditionally used in the printing industry and this factor should not be

overlooked when considering risk improvement.

When encountering high speed web presses for gravure printing and flexography

on which highly flammable inks are used, particular care needs to be exercised

concerning the use of electrical equipment in hazardous areas and to the hazards

of static electricity (Technical Bulletins 23 & 35 refer). Such aspects should be a key

feature of the DSEAR risk assessment.

Drying, whether in connection with gravure printing or, for that matter, other

printing processes require careful consideration regarding potential inception

hazards and inbuilt fire safety controls. Also, arrangements for the periodical

inspection and cleaning of ink residues in extract ducts serving dryers are of

paramount importance (Technical Bulletin 40 – UV Drying in the Printing Industry


As well as the hazards associated with actual printing, various print finishing

operations will commonly be encountered in the form of cutting and creasing,

collation, folding and stitching, binding, laminating and other processes. The main hazards associated with these operations are those of waste production, which on

occasions will involve the installation of extensive automatic extraction and

compaction plant which bring their own inherent hazards.

Additional RISCAuthority guidance documents relevant to the printing industry include:

  • RC 55, 56 & 57 – Recommendations for fire safety in the storage and use of

    highly flammable and flammable liquids.

  • RC30 – Recommendations for the selection and use of electrical equipment in

    hazardous atmospheres.


By way of background information, the following paragraphs have been copied

directly from RC65.


3D printing has come of age remarkably quickly. A few years ago, it was only

considered for concept models and prototypes, whereas it is now used daily in

routine manufacturing processes.

Whereas traditional manufacturing processes were based on casting, moulding or

subtractive technologies, 3D printing is a creative approach based on the incremental

addition of layers of material by a process (additive manufacturing) allied to printing

but using a variety of materials in place of ink, which results in the formation of a

three dimensional object in a single process. At the heart of the process is a

computer using data originating from CAD drawings, 3D scanners or 3D modeling

software which controls the laying down of the layers of material. For some medical

products the data may originate from MRI scanners and similar sources.

Since the first prototype printers were manufactured in the mid-1980s, developments

have been rapid, with printers using such diverse materials as plastics, polymers,

wax, glass, metal, sand and glue mixtures, edible food and human tissue. Fire

resistant products for use in the aerospace industry may also be manufactured using

3D printing technologies. There are many forms of printers which, due to the

differences in the properties of the materials that they employ, may introduce a

variety of fire hazards into the workplace. Because of this, and the continuing rapid

development of the process, the recommendations that follow reflect somewhat a

snapshot in time and should be interpreted in the light of the specific processes and

materials employed in the workplace.

The wide range of products that can be manufactured on site by a 3D printing

process may – in the near future – have a significant impact on the volumes and

nature of stored materials in some factories and warehouses. Although this may result in the reduction of some fire hazards, new and novel hazards may be introduced in their place.

The Technology

Three dimensional representations of an object may be formed from designs

produced by CAD software or by scanning an existing object. This data may then be

used to control a 3D printing process which is akin to a conventional printer, but

builds up layers of substrate one on top of another, until a reproduction of the object

is formed in the substrate material. The accuracy of the 3D image is dependent on

the quality of the information provided by the CAD software or scanning technique.

Printers are available that can print using plastics, metals, food and organic


While the first printers built in the 1970 were large – and being prototypes were

expensive – modern printers are available that sit on a desktop and are even suitable

for use in the home.

While most printers create plastic parts using hot plastic, plastic powder-based

technologies can also generate thermoplastic parts in a range of engineered

production plastics such as polyamide, as well as being used to produce heat

resistant materials. When printing with metal the particle size that is utilised is

especially critical, as it directly influences the part density as well as the accuracy,

surface quality and feature resolution.

Not all 3D printers use the same technology. There are several ways to print, but all

are additive, differing in the way layers are built to create the final object. Some

methods use melted or soft material to produce the layers: selective laser sintering

(SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) are the most common of these

technologies. Another method involves curing a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser

or similar power source one layer at a time. The most common technology using this

method is called stereolithography (SLA).

The key points of RC65 are summarised by the RISCAuthority in the following


Select the most appropriate equipment to purchase

Prior to purchase consider criteria such as the choice of material(s) to be used, production cycle times, speed of production and post-production processing and costs.

Understand the process

Understand the way that the equipment operates and the facilities that need to be provided to allow fire hazards to be adequately assessed, and appropriate protection measures identified.

Maintain business continuity

Hold duplicate copies of computer software, CAD or 3D modelling files that drive the printers off-site in case of fire, flood or other emergency.

Avoid leaving the printing process unattended until proven to be reliable

Before being left unattended, a new 3D printing process should be fully developed and run for a prolonged period with staff in attendance.

Assess the process before unattended operation

If it is intended that equipment is to be left operating without staff in attendance, then a specific risk assessment for the process should be undertaken and appropriate control measures introduced.

Provide environmental controls where necessary

Some 3D printing processes are carried out in controlled atmospheres. Measures for monitoring and controlling the composition of the atmosphere should be planned and put in place.

The Printing Industry

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