OSHA 101 – Understanding OSHA in the Beauty Industry

OSHA regulations apply to ALL workers in all industries in the United States…including salons and spas.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act was first conceived in the 1960’s and was signed into existence(1) by President Nixon in 1970. Along with it came the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). Like any legislation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is a living document…over the years there have been revisions and additional powers and roles defined. For example in 1972 the first OSHA Standards were created to provide a baseline for safety and health protection for American workplaces.  Over the subsequent years, there have been many “Standards” issued—the first being the Asbestos Standard, followed by things like the Construction Safety  Standard, the Coke-Oven Standard and the Diving Standard.

One such standard that was created is the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard in 1991, directly relevant to the AIDS outbreak and specifically applied to health care workers. In this standard, several terms were adopted—one which also has real meaning to salon workers is the term Other Potentially Infectious Materials or OPIM which are basically any bodily secretion (except sweat) that has the potential to carry pathogens as well as differentiating intact skin. Parenteral is another term which relates to salon workers:  “Parenteral means piercing mucous membranes or the skin barrier through such events as needlesticks, human bites, cuts, and abrasions.”(2) A further term which was coined “Universal Precautions, is an approach to infection control. According to the concept of Universal Precautions, all human blood and certain human body fluids are treated as if known to be infectious for HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne pathogens.”

Over the years, additional rules were put into place and in 2001, the Universal Precautions set forth were revised, yet again, and became known as Standard Precautions(3) Two particularly noteworthy and relevant expansions include the anticipation of exposure….and no longer are limited to blood, but include skin contact

  • Standard precautions includes the use of: hand washing, appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns, masks, whenever touching or exposure to patients’ body fluids is anticipated.
  • Contact Precautions used for infections spread by skin to skin contact or contact with other surfaces such as herpes simplex virus.

A further effect of the 2001 revisions are extending these Standard Precautions to every worker; no longer applicable solely to health care workers, but every worker who has the potential of risk of exposure to BBP or OPIM. In addition, Section C, paragraph 6 states “Gloves must be worn when reasonably anticipated that employee may have hand contact with blood or OPIM when handling contaminated items or surfaces.” The difference here is that the original rules listed needle sticks and sharps as the vector of contamination, while this revision is expanded to include any source of contamination. Contaminated skin would be one such surface, for example, if Herpes, MRSA or other pathogens are present.  Since these pathogens remain viable outside bodily secretions, it’s reasonable to stipulate the potential for exposure is present.

If it can be reasonably expected that a worker could have hand contact with blood, OPIM, or contaminated surfaces or items, the employer must ensure that the worker wears gloves.(8)

To put this into place for salon workers, yes we are included under the oversight of OSHA as of 2001. We must take Standard Precautions against BBPs and OPIM when risk of exposure is anticipated. Standard Precautions include the use of PPEs such as protective eyewear, protective clothing and the much debated gloves. Gloves are mandated when the salon worker may have hand contact when handling contaminated surfaces. Skin that is colonized with pathogens is considered a contaminated surface. It is impossible to “look” at skin and see if it is colonized, and with today’s numbers of colonized persons walking around with no symptoms,(5) it’s highly probable. Therefore the risk of exposure is anticipated and precautions should be taken.

It’s not just BBPs that workers need to avoid. OSHA also stipulates protective barriers in the presence of chemical substances which can have an adverse effect on the health of the worker. There have been many studies documenting the accretion of toxins (defined as any substance which has a poisonous effect on a living organism) can be slow and seemingly harmless products can have a cumulative effect over time.(6)

It is sometimes argued by those resistant to embracing safer protocols, that employers must have PPEs in place and available but the employee can choose not to use them. This is incorrect. OSHA was put into place to ensure employers provided safe working conditions to protect employees. However, if an employee fails to follow mandated Standard Precautions, it is a violation and OSHA enforcement and penalties will apply. In fact, OSHA expects the employer to take disciplinary actions against the non-compliant worker.(7)

If it can be reasonably expected that a worker could have hand contact with blood, OPIM, or contaminated surfaces or items, the employer must ensure that the worker wears gloves.(8) Other protective gear is equally important, of course.

Summary: OSHA Standards must be maintained in beauty industry facilities…just like any other workplace.

These OSHA standards were put into place to protect employees from the great risks some take in their daily jobs. The full scope of the legislation has evolved over time, just as the circumstances in which it exists have changed. It’s a new world….we needed new rules, and the OSHA board is continually working to maintain safe standards for workers. Today’s super bugs were not in the picture when these regulations were first penned employers and workers alike need to update their knowledge and understanding of the revisions to the original Act from 1970. OSHA regulations mandate the minimum standards for safety in the work place. We should do even better. Setting aside these standards “just because I’ve never had a problem” or “I’ve always done it this way” is foolish beyond comprehension. Is it true they care about your safety more than you do?


(1) https://www.osha.gov/osha40/OSHATimeline.pdf

(2) https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=16265

(3) https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/hospital/hazards/univprec/univ.html


(5) https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.html



(6) A Critique of Assumptions About Selecting Chemical-Resistant Gloves: A Case for Workplace Evaluation of Glove Efficacy. Thomas D. KlingnerMark F. Boeniger, Pages 360-367. Published online: 30 Nov 2010 http://oeh.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10473220252864969

Glove permeation by organic solvents. G.O. NELSONB.Y. LUMG.J. CARLSONC.M. WONG & J.S. JOHNSON Pages 217-225. Published online: 04 Jun 2010 http://oeh.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298668191419613?src=recsys

Chemical Resistance of Disposable Nitrile Gloves Exposed to Simulated Movement. Robert N. Phalen & Weng Kee Wong Pages 630-639. Published online: 25 Sep 2012 http://oeh.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15459624.2012.723584?src=recsys

Personal Protective Equipment and Dermal Exposure. Paul G. EvansJohn J. McAlinden & Peter Griffin Pages 334-337. Published online: 30 Nov 2010 http://oeh.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10473220118688?src=recsys

(7) https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=11345

(8) https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_BloodborneFacts/bbfact03.pdf?fref=gc