The Health and Safety Executive reveals that thousands of workers in the UK become ill every year due to prolonged contact with hazardous substances. Constant exposure to harmful chemicals can lead to long-term health conditions such as asthma and dermatitis or deadly diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Hairdressers are regularly exposed to harmful substances in the workplace, putting their health and safety at risk.  Constant contact with water, shampoo, and cleaning products can irritate the skin and lead to allergies or dermatitis. Products such as persulphates and henna can cause asthma, while certain hairsprays can worsen chronic asthma and other respiratory problems.

Whether you work in a salon or own one, it is crucial to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself or your staff from the effects of hazardous substances. The COSHH regulations play an indispensable role in health and safety measures.  You may have already heard of this legislation, but what does it cover exactly?  Read on to learn about the regulation and how it affects you.

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health and requires employers to protect workers from substances that are harmful to health.  Hazardous substances include mists, dust, fumes, gasses, chemicals, microorganisms, nano-particles, fibres, and biological agents, including bacteria and viruses. The regulation covers damage to the lungs and other internal organs, skin, nose, mouth, eyes, and the central nervous system, as well as injuries caused by burning or explosion.

In workplaces such as mines, quarries, construction, and even restaurants and salons, exposure to hazardous substances is unavoidable. COSHH requires that any company dealing with harmful chemicals in the work environment should conduct an in-depth risk assessment.  The process identifies dangerous substances in the workplace, determines how they might pose a risk and what precautions to take to prevent harm. Control measures include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary, installing local exhaust ventilation, regular decontamination, and proper employee training.

The maximum penalty for failure to comply with COSHH regulations is unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to two years

How Does it Affect Hairdressers?

From shampoos to hairsprays, hairdressers work with hazardous substances daily, which increases the risk of them getting ill. The HSE reports that about 70 percent of hairdressers acquire work-related skin conditions such as dermatitis at some point during their employment. Many of the cases are preventable.

Several hairdressers also have occupational asthma, which is chiefly caused by chemicals used in bleach, henna products, fumes from solvents, dust from latex, and hairsprays. Other health risks include musculoskeletal issues due to long periods of standing and bending, and Legionnaires Disease, a form of pneumonia caused by bacteria in the water.

Whether you are an employer, a small team worker, self-employed, or a mobile hairdresser, strict compliance to COSHH regulations is vital to prevent injury, accidents, and potential legal issues. The law also covers the safety and well-being of customers during their stay at the salon.

The four main areas that pose potential hazards for hairdressers and their customers are facilities, hygiene, equipment, and security (fire exits). Dangerous substances may enter one’s body through inhalation, skin absorption, injection, direct contact, and ingestion.  

To reduce the risks, keep the workplace well ventilated, store and dispose of chemicals correctly, and disinfect facilities and equipment often.  More importantly, the salon staff must be aware of the hazards involved in the job and the measures to counter them. They should also be committed to adhering to the health and safety policies.

What PPE Do Hairdressers Need?

COSHH regulations recommend that all hairdressers wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as part of their health and safety protocol. Wearing PPE is a simple yet effective method to control and reduce the risks when working with harmful substances. You can determine which type of PPE you need by assessing the products used in the salon and their potential risks. 

The most common PPEs that hairdressers use are gloves, facemasks, aprons, and goggles or visors. The workers should also undergo an accessible online COSHH course, which will include the PPE needed and how to use the PPEs correctly.

Gloves protect the hands from potentially harmful hair products, such as dyes, perming fluids, and straightening agents. They also keep water and shampoo off the skin, which helps prevent dermatitis. Based on HSE recommendations, gloves should be single-use, all-round smooth, powder-free, and non-latex. Ideally, the length should be 300mm, but for those who want to keep water from running down their arms, the long-length ones with folded cuffs work best.

Facemasks keep hairdressers from smelling and inhaling gases and fumes released from treatment. Aprons, googles, and visors are suitable for tasks that expose workers to splashing that may happen when using hair colours.  Additionally, hairdressers should require customers to wear plastic shoulder capes to protect their skin, specifically when applying dyes.

How COVID is Affecting Hairdressers in the UK?

The COVID-19 pandemic has immensely disrupted the everyday operations of the hair and beauty industry. Many workers struggle to adapt to the abrupt changes, such as social distancing and increased hygiene procedures. Restrictions mean fewer clients or none at all.  As the UK goes into its most recent lockdown, salons and mobile hair businesses must again shut down until further notice.

Despite the lockdown, many creative hair professionals found new ways to continue serving their customers.  There is a rise in online consultations, sales of DYI hair products via click-and-collect and virtual tutorials.  It shows the pandemic will not easily take down the industry.

However, the future of the hairdressing business remains unclear. 

The sector will surely get back on its feet, but it will need to adjust to new business models and practices. For instance, salons may start adopting an appointment-only scheme, rather than walk-ins, and may decline clients who exhibit symptoms of the virus. The wearing of PPEs will be more indispensable than ever.  Salons may be required to disinfect surfaces between customers, with workers washing their hands frequently.  Clients as well will be required to wear the necessary PPE.

With the anticipation of stricter health and safety protocols, hairdressers should brush up on their knowledge and understanding of the COSHH guidelines. There are online courses that discuss the regulations in-depth.  Training will prepare them for the upcoming changes and develop skills vital for the UK’s post-pandemic economic recovery.