At first, students thought someone had left a fake bloodstained finger on one of the printmaking tables. Upon further inspection and to their horror, they realized a fellow student cut their finger off. The printing press accident happened during Winter Term of 2017 in a Printmaking I class.
“One of the girls was at the automatic press and her hand actually went through and her ring finger, it would have been her right hand, where the first knuckle was, got cut off,” junior Carly Gilbert, then a freshman in the class said.
Gilbert says that the student walked out of the classroom quietly, without visibly being in distress and sat down on the floor of the WAC lobby.
“What I was told is she grabbed her hand immediately and walked out, that there wasn’t actually a lot of blood,” Gilbert said. “But she had gone into shock and didn’t really know what was happening so she went out and sat down. Andrea Ferrigno [Printmaking Professor] was just like, ‘What!’ And this girl was obviously just completely out of it and so [Ferrigno] called the ambulance.”
According to an incident report filed by the Galesburg Police Department, the accident happened on Feb 16. 2017 during a sixth period class. Due to the medical nature of the incident, the GPD could not disclose who the student was, or identify them beyond stating they were a 22-year-old female.
Meanwhile in the classroom, none of the students were aware of the situation unfolding outside until a student walked over to the recently used printing press.
“One of the students went up to the printing press and was like, ‘oh who left a finger on the printing press, is this some sort of joke or something?’ And then she actually went closer to see it, and it was a real finger, And so the student was like, ‘oh my God, that’s a real finger,’ Gilbert recalled. “Everyone in the class started being like ‘holy shit.’”
A printing press is a large, incredibly heavy machine used to make prints and duplicate artwork from engravings or etchings that are pressed under the machine. The incident report stated that the student smashed their hand inside the press, the pressure causing the finger to come clean off.
“Because the printmaking press is like very precise, they were able to reattach it because of the nerve endings,” Gilber said. “So the printing press is super heavy so it would have been rolled off, but like literally this whole part was completely cut off, there was so much pressure.”
The accident was a shock to all, perhaps most of all to Art Department Chair Mark Holmes. Not only because a student was involved in a serious injury, but because of all the machines that caused such an accident in the art building, it was a printing press that did it. As far as Holmes knows, it’s the first serious injury that the Art department has seen in 15 years.
“We have things that are much more dangerous than that; table saws, and bandsaws and welders. And we carefully regulate those things. So I do workshops and there’s a list of rules and policies and that. And honestly it’s very surprising when that press, that small and very slow press ended up being the thing that caused the problem,” Holmes said.
Gilbert remembers properly being taught how to use the machine, while Holmes and Ferrigno believe that the accident occurred due to both human error and poor engineering of the machine in terms of safety.
“The accident was the result of two things. One, the student getting her hands too close to the roller and trying to push the material into the roller, that moves very slowly. Something like 10 feet a minute, it’s very slow,” Holmes said. “That was one thing, the real problem was that once her hand was caught, she couldn’t reach the switch to turn it off and so she couldn’t stop the machine.”
Since the accident, the art department has added a foot switch, so the operator is able to turn on and off the machine within reach, as well as re-engineering a safety guard for the machine.
“We have since installed what’s called a momentary foot switch, so unless your foot is on a switch, the machine isn’t running. So you can take your foot off the switch to stop the machine,” Holmes said.
Although there were additional safety precautions taken with the machine, a main cause for the accident was the student not properly using the machine.
“The student was not using the press as instructed and claimed responsibility for the accident. It had previously been used for 40 years without incident. However, due to the incident we have been working to increase the safety of the press,” Ferrigno told TKS in an email.
Though Gilbert insists that a stuck foot pedal caused the accident, Ferrigno and Holmes state that there was no foot pedal on the machine.
The automatic press has not been used since the incident due to problems getting the machine insured, so printmaking classes have since been using manual presses.
“We’ve installed this switch which is a foot operated switch. But that hasn’t been enough to satisfy the insurance company, who incidentally has shown no interest in the fact that we have rooms of much more dangerous things,” Holmes said.
Ferrigno could not divulge the student’s name due to legal reasons. Holmes and Gilbert however couldn’t remember who the student was. Gilbert can recall that the student involved in the incident was able to come back to class, finish her printmaking projects using a manual press and graduate that spring.