Lawmakers Demand OSHA Update Safety Rules for Nail Salons

By Roy Maurer June 3, 2015

Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update its standards for chemical, ergonomic and biological hazards as they relate to dangerous working conditions at nail salons following a scathing May 8, 2015, expose in The New York Times.

Nail technicians working in salons across the United States face possible health hazards every day, including exposure to chemicals found in glues, polishes, polish removers, emollients and other salon products. These chemicals may be a factor in health conditions such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses, skin disorders, liver disease, reproductive health problems, and cancer.

Additionally, salon workers often endure muscle strains from working in awkward positions or from repetitive motions, and have a high risk of infection from contact with client skin, nails and blood, according to OSHA.

The senators sent a letter to OSHA administrator David Michaels, asking what the agency needs from Congress to conduct an expedited update of the permissible exposure limits for chemicals found in nail salon products, what remedies OSHA can provide nail technicians who have suffered from exposure to chemicals, and for a detailed inspection plan in order to enforce existing and future standards.

Staying Healthy While Giving Manicures and Pedicures

Nail products such as polishes, nail strengtheners, polish removers and artificial nail liquids can contain many chemicals, some of which are known to be harmful. With repeated use or exposure to high concentrations, these chemicals could damage workers’ health.

Some potentially hazardous chemicals, the types of products they can be found in, and how they can affect workers’ health include:

  • Acetone, found in nail polish remover, can cause headaches; dizziness; irritated eyes, skin and throat.
  • Dibutyl phthalate, found in nail polish, can cause nausea; irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth and throat.
  • Ethyl methacrylate, found in artificial nail liquid, can lead to asthma; irritated eyes, skin, nose and mouth; and difficulty concentrating.
  • Formaldehyde, found in nail polish and nail hardener, can cause cancer; difficulty breathing; asthma-like attacks; allergic reactions; irritated eyes, skin and throat.
  • Toluene, found in nail polish and fingernail glue, can cause dry or cracked skin; headaches; dizziness; numbness; irritated eyes, nose, throat and lungs; damage to liver and kidneys; and harm to unborn children during pregnancy.

OSHA requires product manufacturers to provide salon owners with safety data sheets for any products they buy that contain hazardous chemicals. Salon employers must maintain these safety data sheets under OSHA’s hazard communication standard. Employers are also required to train workers so that they understand the potential hazards of the chemicals and how to use the products safely. Safety data sheets must provide the following information:

  • Hazardous ingredients in the product.
  • How workers can be exposed to the ingredients.
  • Health and safety risks workers face when using the product.
  • Steps for safely using and storing the product, including what to do in emergencies.

Employers must provide the safety data sheets to any worker who asks for a copy.

Additional steps to keep workers safe from chemical hazards in nail salons include:

  • Using less hazardous products such as acid-free and “3-free” products. 3-free products claim to be made without the toxic trio of chemicals of toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate, but investigations have found these claims to not always be true.
  • Ventilating the worksite. “Ventilation is the best way to lower the level of chemicals in the salon,” OSHA said. You can do this by opening doors and windows; keeping exhaust, heating and air conditioning systems going and ceiling vents on; and placing fans near open doors and windows.
  • Keeping products off skin and out of eyes by wearing gloves and goggles, wearing long-sleeved shirts, washing hands frequently, and keeping food away from chemicals.
  • Storing chemicals safely.

Preventing Musculoskeletal Problems

Nail salon workers are predisposed to ergonomic and musculoskeletal problems as a result of leaning over a worktable for long periods of time and doing repetitive movements like filing and buffing nails. OSHA recommends workers reduce stress to the body and help avoid aches and pains by employing these ergonomic practices:

  • Using an adjustable chair. Workers should sit so that their feet are flat on the floor and their backs are supported. A footrest should be used if feet do not touch the floor when sitting.
  • Raising the client’s hand or foot so as not to have to bend over as far.
  • Increasing the lighting. Nail technicians can then see more clearly without having to bend over.
  • Using safety glasses with magnifying lenses. These glasses reduce the need to bend over.
  • Taking frequent breaks, changing positions and doing different tasks, if possible.
  • Pacing the work. Working too fast can cause tenseness, which could cause muscle pain.
  • Stretching in between sessions with clients.

OSHA advises nail salon workers to “report any health problems you think are from the products you use in the workplace to your employer and doctor. Employers must follow up on reports of health problems from workers.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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