When OSHA Comes Knocking

by Keith Zimmerman, Keith’s Hair Center; Green Bay & Appleton, Wisconsin

This is my story about how an OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Agency) inspection affected my hair replacement business. It is not intended to criticize OSHA or seek sympathy for myself. (Ignorance is not a defense for non-compliance of a law.)

OSHA and the Hair Replacement IndustrySafety for our employees and our clients is a serious matter. A publicized safety or health incident could severely damage our industry. What I hope to achieve by telling my story is to wake up our industry so that we are not a targeted group by OSHA in the future.

The hair replacement industry must protect itself from negative publicity that could occur if we had a serious illness or injury. We deal with chemicals, sharp tools and blood borne pathogens every day. Our workers have the right to a safe workplace, to understand what is in the products they use at work and to know how to protect themselves from hazardous chemicals.

When stylists use hazardous products, it is the responsibility of the salon owner or employer to follow OSHA’s standards.

OSHA regulates workplace safety.

Although OSHA regulations do not include a section specifically for the hair industry, all employers are subject to the general regulation that requires a workplace to be free from known haz- ards. In addition to this general regula- tion, several specific OSHA regulations

may apply to a hair replacement center,

depending on its operations.

I learned about these regulations the hard way at 10:30 a.m. March 7th, 2013.

That was     the day an OSHA inspector walked into my business. OSHA inspections can be conducted without advance notice. An inspector may walk through your salon to docu- ment what they see,

review records, moni- tor chemical exposure and check overall san- itation, health, and safety conditions. The inspector had what she called a Formal Employee Complaint, a written complaint where OSHA must conduct an on-site visit. My choice was to cooperate and let her inspect the facil- ity or she would come back with a search warrant. It seemed

like the best thing to do was to just let her do her inspection.

The issue that triggered the inspec- tion was a written complaint from a current or past employee about the fumes given off from the solvent we used to clean hair systems. The inspec- tor asked for a tour of the work areas, a copy of my Hazard Communication, list of all hazardous chemicals, Personal Protection Equipment plan and proof of employee training. She informed me that although she was there because of the one specific complaint, she had the right to cite me up to $7500 for any other violations she found.

The difficult thing about that day was that for 29 years of business, I always took pride in doing things the right way. I complied with the best of my knowl- edge to any federal or state regulations. In all my education and reading of industry publications, I never learned anything about OSHA. I only heard of OSHA when there was an accident at a large company. What I didn’t know that day was that I was about to learn the hard way about OSHA regulations.

Potentially harmful liquid in an unmarked container.

Hazard Communication and MSDS Sheet:

The first thing the inspector wanted to see was a copy of my Hazard Com- munication and a list of MSDS sheets for all of our chemicals. I had no idea what a Hazard Communication was at the time. I had seen MSDS sheets from some of my distributors, but had no idea what to do with them. I was caught off guard and totally unprepared.

Personal Protection Equipment Plan:

When we went to the dispensary room the inspector wanted to see my workplace hazard assessment for salon employees handling solvents (to clean hair systems and wigs) and other chemicals. The hazard assessment would evaluate the need for personal protective equipment (PPE), including appropriate gloves, eye protection, etc. while handling these materials.

Although we always provided gloves to the employees, I had no idea what a workplace assessment was. The inspector then wanted to see the process we use to clean hair systems and wanted to monitor the air quality while the staff was cleaning. While they were doing this she informed me that she had the right to speak to any and all of my employees. That process consumed 4 hours of my employee’s time, which I was responsible to pay their wages at that time.

After all the drama of the inspection day it took three months before I heard back from OSHA. I received a certified letter informing me that I was being cited for the following citations:

Citation 1 The employer had not completed a Workplace Hazard Assessment for salon employees handling and pouring solvents (to clean hairpieces) and other chemicals.

Citation 2 Employer supplied Microflex Ultraderm examining gloves for salon employees cleaning hairpieces with solvents and using other chemicals. These gloves are not rated as chemically resistant and do not maintain structural integrity under conditions of use.

Citation 3 The employer did not have a written Hazard Communication Program for salon employees who were exposed to various chemicals, on site.

Citation 4 Salon employees had not been trained on the requirements of the Hazard Communication or on the hazards associated with the use of those chemicals used in the salon.

Citation 5 Open containers holding solvent for soaking hair pieces were not labeled with the identity or hazard of material contained in the trays.

The fines incurred for these citations totaled $9600. I had 14 days to appeal the fines and meet with the regional director for OSHA. I was advised to always appeal the fines. In most cases the fines will be reduced. The fines were reduced in half to $4800 after meeting with the regional director. In addition he required me to have an onsite safety consultation with Wisconsin Occupational Safety and Health. This is a free program to help businesses comply with OSHA regulations. They helped me to abate all the violations that I was cited for and helped with other compliance issues.

The irony to the whole OSHA saga was that I had a chemist from the University of Wisconsin come in and test the air quality in the salon, while we were using solvents to clean hair systems. His conclusion was that there was no significant risk to the employees with the methods that we used. We tested five different solvents from five different companies and all were deemed safe as long as they were used according to my hazard assessment.

The purpose of sharing the details of my experience with OSHA is to help hair replacement professionals become compliant. The risk to the average hair replacement center in fines and liability can be catastrophic. Most of us don’t know where to start or have the financial resources to hire an outside safety director.

Each state has a free onsite consultation program. You can contact these agencies through the www.osha.gov  search for “Compliance Assistance Quick Start” or call your local OSHA office. I would highly recommend getting help from the onsite consultation program. In my case I would not have been able to set up my program without their help. This will help to make sure your program is set up correctly and lessen the chances of costly fines. They will assist in setting up your safety program and identify any safety violations before you incur any violations.

To insure the long-term success of our industry we must address the issue of OSHA now. Damaging publicity to our industry could cause irrevocable harm to hair replacement centers. As an example, look at what OSHA did to the keratin treatment market. It targeted that market and practically shut it down. Our industry needs to address this issue sooner than later!