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Dangerous Workplace: Nail Salons

dangers of working at nail salonHaving handled workers’ compensation claims for many years, there are numerous workplaces that I often think of as dangerous; that certain types of work are just inherently more dangerous for workers. A recent article in the New York Times, highlights the dangers nail salon employees face, specifically an unhealthy work environment that you (myself included) might not have realized existed. I don’t frequent nail salons myself, but reading this article really brought to light the type of situations that these women face.

The Conditions

The article discusses many of the health symptoms afflicting manicurists. It recounts how one manicurist recently had a miscarriage, while another had a young son with learning difficulties who at 3 could not talk and could barely walk. The article mentions how across the country women who work in nail salons report having children born with disabilities, of miscarriages, of cancer, consistent coughs, and painful skin conditions. The author of the article notes that these conditions are so common that older manicurists warn women of child-bearing age to not work in nail salons.

Medical research shows a link between the chemicals used in nail products and serious health problems. According to the New York Times, some of the chemicals in nail products are known to cause cancer, while others have been linked to abnormal fetal development, miscarriages and other harm to reproductive health. Multiple studies have found that cosmetologists have increased rates of death from Hodgkin’s disease, of low birth-weight babies and of multiple myeloma (a form of cancer).

One doctor that was interviewed described patients as having constant nose bleeds and throats that ached every day since working as a manicurist. One nail salon owner found she had sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, in her lungs. The article describes scans of her lungs as appearing to be “covered with granules of sand, streaked by tiny scars.” The doctor stated it was from breathing in clouds of acrylic and other dust particles.

Federal Law and Protections

Cosmetics are governed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which is more than 75 years old. Under 21 U.S.C. § 361(a) the law defines an “adulterated” cosmetic as one that “bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling thereof, or under such conditions of use as are customary or usual…” The law does not further provide a way for the FDA (the body regulating the cosmetic industry) to evaluate the effects chemicals in cosmetics may have before the cosmetics are in the marketplace.

According to the NY Times article, some states and municipalities have recommended that nail salon workers wear gloves and other types of protection; however, many salon owners discourage wearing them for aesthetic reasons.

EPA Report of Nail Salon Workers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put out a report in 2007 titled “Protecting the Health of Nail Salon Workers.” In it the agency has listed 20 chemicals found in nail products, 17 of which are hazardous to the respiratory tract. The EPA report also provides safety measures to minimize inhalation and skin exposure. There are also specific sections on when to use gloves and masks.

Also check out this publication from OSHA for more safety measures.

For the first part of the New York Times series on nail salons check out “The Price of Nice Nails.” For more information on Colorado workers’ comp laws and employee rights and responsibilities click here.

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