Tattooing is an artform that has been with us for thousands of years. In recent years, however, tattooing has become more affordable and accessible than ever. They appear in magazines, television and most celebrities will boast tattoos of their own.
Though this is great news for tattoo businesses and artists, who have seen an influx in interest, it is more vital than ever that the health risks associated with the tattooing process are taken into consideration. By ensuring that all necessary health and safety precautions and regulations are met, you are not just to protecting your clients, but also yourself.
Is My Work Environment Safe and Hygienic?
If you are moving into a new retail space – or creating your own tattoo studio – it is important to ensure that your environment is as hygienic as possible, and is designed in a way that makes good health and safety practices easy.
All surfaces, such as worktops, couches and seats, should be cleaned regularly and be resistant to liquid spills. For tattoo parlours, leather can be a great option for upholstering seating and treatment areas, as it complies with these hygienic requirements, as well as creates a stylish finish reflects the creative environment you work in. Carpets should also be avoided in any treatment areas in case of liquid spills, and all floors should be slip-resistant in order to prevent unwanted injuries.
- Washing Facilities
Separate wash basins must be available for hand wash and washing equipment in order to prevent any cross-contamination from tattooing equipment. In the case of hand wash basins, though it is not a requirement, it is advisable to install an elbow or foot-operated mixer tap system with both hot and cold water. Non-touch taps are also a good alternative for preventing the unnecessary spread of bacteria.
Fixtures such as hand soap and paper towel dispensers should be mounted to the wall within easy reach. These should always be kept topped up, as this prevents the practitioner from having to refill them while their hands may be contaminated with hazardous matter.
Space should also be allocated for an adequately sized pedal bin to stand next to any hand washing facilities, so that paper towels can be disposed of immediately.
The layout and materials of your workspaces, furniture and washing facilities are all considerations that will need to be made during the design stage, and can be just as important as a thorough cleaning routine. Even something as small as installing the correct sort of soap dispenser can go a long way towards lowering the spread of bacteria.
What Should I Be Wearing?
Just as the work environment should be tidy, clean, and as hygienic as possible, so should your members of staff, especially those doing the tattooing. Ensuring that all clothing and reusable items are clean will lower the risk of bacteria build-up, infection, and the spread of hazardous matter to other parts of the premises.
- Work Uniform
A tattooist’s work uniform should be clean at all times, and changed daily. When choosing what to wear to work, however, the most important consideration should be that it does not impede thorough hand washing in any way.
Short sleeve shirts, though not a requirement, are recommended in order to make the hand washing process as easy as possible. This is a great excuse to bring out the graphic tees, which will match the aesthetic of many tattoo parlours.
Gloves must be worn at all times during the tattooing process, from preparation to cleaning and sterilising equipment. They provide a dual level of protection, acting as both a barrier that prevents harmful organisms transfering from you to the customer and vice versa.
Latex gloves are the most common and preferred choice amongst practitioners, as they offer a comfortable fit and a barrier against bacteria without constricting movement.
However, there are also synthetic alternatives to latex that are available for people with latex allergies. Neoprene and nitrile are both materials that have been deemed as suitable alternatives to latex, and will protect against any harmful substances.
General purpose gloves can be used for general purpose cleaning or cleaning equipment prior to sterilisation. These gloves must be cleaned after every use with warm water and general purpose detergent, and dried thoroughly to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Aprons and Goggles
Aprons are also considered a single-use item, and must be worn whenever there is a risk of clothing being exposed to blood or bodily fluids. This means that a disposable apron must be worn at all times during tattooing.
Eye protection, including goggles and glasses, should be worn under the conditions that there is a risk of blood or bodily fluids splashing into the eye.
It is important to remember that single-use gloves, aprons and eyewear should all be disposed of and changed as soon as a particular activity is finished. It is especially vital that gloves be changed between clients, as failure to do so risks contaminating equipment and spreading harmful bacteria to the client.
The Cleaning Process
Maintaining a high level of cleanliness is essential for a tattoo business, both for safety and your customers’ peace of mind. It is your responsibility to ensure that the work environment, the equipment and your staff are kept clean and tidy, and that cleaning isn’t just done for show.
- Hand Hygiene
Thorough hand washing is essential in order to prevent the spreading of bacteria and other microorganisms, which could cause harm to both you and your clients. Staff members should wash their hands in the following situations:
- Before and after an intervention with each client
- After contact with any blood or body fluids
- Immediately after the removal of gloves
- After using a tissue or handkerchief
- After smoking
- After visiting the toilet
- Before and after eating
- Immediately after any other activity or contact with a client’s surroundings that could potentially result in hands becoming contaminated.
Though it may be hard to believe, studies show us that up to 1 in 5 of us do not wash our hands and only 30% of us actually use soap. In order to protect your clients from any harmful bacteria during the tattooing process, it may be worth familiarising yourself with recommended hand washing techniques.
The three stages to hand washing, as stated by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, are:
- Removing all jewellery from hands and wrists and ensuring fingernails are kept short and free of polish.
- Washing hands with liquid soap, ensuring the soap comes into contact with all areas of the hand. It is important to wash your hands for an appropriate amount of time (about 10-15 seconds minimum), in order to ensure all bacteria has been removed. Particular attention should be paid to the tips of the fingers, the thumbs and the areas between the fingers.
- Hands should be dried thoroughly using good quality paper towels, in order to prevent any bacteria still present from spreading to other areas.
- Work Environment
It is important that your staff are kept informed and aware of their responsibility to maintain clean premises. Displaying informational posters in easily visible areas (such as above the sink) is an effective way to maintain awareness of good hygiene practices.
For small tattoo businesses, safety protocols and definitive cleaning responsibilities may seem like a burden to organise, write down and implement, especially if you like to maintain a relaxed, creative and friendly atmosphere for your staff.
However, even for small businesses, it may be advisable to create and maintain a cleaning rota or manual to ensure that all routine cleaning jobs are completed. This can be a useful way of ensuring that there are no misunderstandings that could compromise hygiene standards. You want to ensure that your customers are in safe hands, both creatively, and hygienically.
All tattoo equipment must be sterilised after every use and before every new client. Sterilisation kills all microorganisms that may have survived the disinfection process, with steam sterilisation being the preferred method amongst many practitioners. This process is not only quick and easy, but also provides reliable and non-toxic cleaning, which is always effective if used correctly.
What About Waste Disposal?
The term ‘sharps’ refers to any sort of waste that has the ability to pierce or puncture the skin in any way. For a tattoo parlour, this applies predominantly to tattoo needles. Within the tattoo industry, sharps will make up a significant portion of your waste disposal, and it is important that they are disposed of separately from any other kind of waste; this will prevent injury or cross-contamination should the waste be hazardous.
Under UK law, sharps waste disposal bins are available in various colours to denote what kind of sharps waste is present. For tattoo parlours, orange-lidded bins are required, as these denote sharps waste that contains no pharmaceutically contaminated waste, but could be contaminated with bodily fluids.
It is vital that you and your staff are aware of how to segregate and dispose of your sharps waste as safely as possible, in order to prevent injuries. Any other waste – including used gloves and aprons, swabs, small dressings, and cotton wool – that has been contaminated with blood or bodily fluids due to tattoo procedures is considered offensive/hazardous waste. This should be disposed of separately to sharps waste and general waste, in order to prevent cross-contamination.
Within work environments that provide exposure to sharp objects, blood, as well as other bodily fluids, health and safety is of the utmost importance. Though we are not health and safety experts, and current health and safety legislation should always be consulted, we recognise the importance of good health and hygiene practices, and provide the waste disposal facilities that you need in order for you and your clients to be as safe as possible.
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