Occupational Safety for the Barber and Stylist

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Formaldehyde: The Hidden Hazard

More than Irritating, Formaldehyde Poses a Serious Health Risk.  Is Your Salon Safe?

Occupational safety for the barber and stylist includes a wide range of issues.  Simply spending so much time on your feet can cause foot and back problems, and aching arms make clear there are some issues with repetitive motion and muscle strain.  But the most serious risk in your hair salon might sit on a shelf near you.

Many hair products contain formaldehyde or ingredients than combine to form formaldehyde, and the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has developed detailed safety guidelines to help barbers and hair stylists identify products that pose a formaldehyde risk and improve occupational safety in the workplace.  It is not always easy to tell if a product poses a risk, so the OSHA guidelines also cover labeling.  As of June 1st, 2015, products must be labeled with the words ‘may cause cancer.’  Until then, labels can say ‘potential cancer hazard.’

Short-Term and Long-Term Risks of Formaldehyde Exposure

The danger posed by formaldehyde is serious and real.  It is not just an issue for people with sensitive skin.  The two main dangers of formaldehyde exposure are an allergic reaction in the short term and a cancer risk in the long term.

  • Formaldehyde exposure can cause an immediate immune system reaction that includes coughing and wheezing, irritated eyes and skin reactions.
  • Formaldehyde is also a known cancer hazard.
  • Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can pose a life-threatening medical emergency.

How to Protect Yourself in the Workplace

The first and most obvious way to avoid formaldehyde exposure is to avoid formaldehyde.  Check product labels carefully, and avoid any that list formaldehyde, Formalin, Methanal, Methanediol,  methylene glycol or Timonacic acid.  It is difficult because some product labels do not always specify that the ingredients can release formaldehyde, and sometimes the problem is the combination of ingredients rather than any one single chemical.

Knowledge is power.  Make sure you and the people you work with know the risks associated with formaldehyde and undergo regular safety training.  Formaldehyde can be inhaled or come into contact with the skin; both are dangerous.

Make sure the salon provides the appropriate personal protective equipment for each barber or hair stylist and that it is used and kept in good condition.  Every hair salon and barber shop needs an eye wash station and shower in case an employee or customer is splashed with any chemical used.

Health comes first.  Know the risks of formaldehyde and how to avoid or minimize them.

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