OSH in the hairdressing sector

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Dr Richard Graveling, Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh

(based on material provided by EU-OSHA)

The hairdressing sector in Europe employs more than one million people. The sector is dominated by small establishments with, on average, fewer than three workers. Over 80% of those who work in the sector are women, many working part-time or on a self-employed basis[1]. These last factors can present challenges in managing OSH risks.

The potential risks are significant and are wide-ranging, including occupational skin diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and problems with mental health and well-being. In the 2014 ESENER-2 survey, “Having to deal with difficult customers, patients, pupils etc.” was identified as the most commonly encountered risk across all workplaces, being an issue in almost 60% of establishments[2].

According to the European Commission, hairdressing is the most high risk profession for occupational skin diseases. In some countries up to 70% of hairdressers suffer from work-related skin damage such as dermatitis at some point during their career. This is at least 10 times more than the average for workers of all sectors. Also, almost 40% of hairdressers report musculoskeletal complaints, five times more than the rate for workers of all sectors.

Recognising the importance of OSH within the sector and of the need for improvement measures to protect the health and safety of workers in the sector, the European Social Partners in the sector, the trade union UNI Europa Hair & Beauty and the representative of hairdressing employers, Coiffure EU have signed a framework agreement ‘on the protection of occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector’[3].

The primary objectives of the agreement are:

  • skin protection (e.g. reduction and elimination of wet-work and dangerous chemicals, use of gloves).
  • the prevention of allergies (e.g. restricting dust formation, sensitising substances, hand tools containing soluble nickel).
  • the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. ergonomic design of workbenches and trolleys, adjustable chairs and stools, comfortable hand tools, reduction of repetitive tasks).
  • the organisation of work and the working environment (e.g. working hours, work spaces, lighting, facilities, non-slip floor covering, general and exhaust ventilation, personal hygiene).
  • maternity protection (e.g. adapting tasks, consultation with physician).
  • mental health and wellbeing (e.g. management, roles and responsibilities)[4].

Part of the agreement includes statements regarding specific protective measures to be taken in workplaces, starting with recognising the important role of the individual workers in taking care of their own health and safety. Both collective and individual protective measures are included, requiring employers to make specific provisions regarding gloves, hand care, working premises, etc. and requiring workers to adopt the provisions made.

For an in-depth review of the sector and the main occupational health and safety risks see the EU-OSHA publication: Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector[1].

To assist those involved in assessing the risks to safety and health associated with hairdressing the OiRA risk assessment tool[5] has been used to develop a specific version for the hairdressing profession which can be accessed here[6]. Recent developments include a version in Spanish[7].