Improving the Occupational Health and Safety in the Hairdressing sector – A long-term commitment from the EU sectoral social dialogue stakeholders

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Dimitris Theodorakis, UNI-Europa, Gerrard Hynes, Coiffure EU

The hairdressing sector

The European hairdressing sector, as defined within the NACE classification system (96.02), employs more than one million workers (including employees, self-employed and agency workers) offering services like hair washing, cutting, dyeing, waving and barbering, as well as beauty treatments such as facial massages, manicures and make-up application for around 350 million potential customers[1].

The sector is characterised by micro and small enterprises with an average of fewer than three workers in around 400,000 hairdressing salons[2]. Health and safety risks are a very important issue in the sector and have been identified in past years by European social partners and recognised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) as one of the prime issues for improving working conditions in the industry.

It is for this reason that the promotion of sustainable working conditions in a predominantly young female sector with a high prevalence of work-related illnesses due to occupational health risks would have benefitted many small hairdressing salons and their owners.

The work-related health and safety problems within the hairdressing trade, described and supported by a vast body of (medical) research, have prompted UNI Europa Hair & Beauty and Coiffure EU into taking action and making their EU sectoral social dialogue committee one of the most active in the field of Occupational health and safety (OSH) at work. The European Framework Agreement on the protection of occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector[3] (EFA) probably been the most important and ambitious action in this field - but not the only one - implemented since the Sectoral Dialogue Committee for the Personal Services was created back in 1999.

General introduction to OSH in the hairdressing sector

The most common OSH risk factors in the hairdressing sector can be divided among nine categories[4]. It should be emphasised, however, that the description of the risks presented below is not exhaustive.

Musculoskeletal disorders[5]

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that affect bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments or peripheral nerves. Hairdressers are a group of workers whose working ability and state of health could be affected by specific work-related activities. Because of the nature of the job, hairdressers often work with their backs bent forwards or twisted (e.g. washing hair at the sink). Repetitive tasks, static postures and long periods of standing have been observed during all client-related activities. The results of posture analysis revealed that hairdressers spend a considerable amount of time with their arms elevated above shoulder level. This is considered a major risk factor for clinically verified shoulder disorders or persistent severe pain.

The prevalence of MSDs in the sector prompted the social partners to highlight MSDs as a sector specific high risk in the EFA and to launch the EU-funded ERGOHAIR[6] project. Within the framework of this project, recommendations and standards for preventive and ergonomic measures were developed, which aimed to raise awareness of the risk of strain in the hairdressing sector and to reduce work related MSDs on a Europe-wide scale.

Hazardous substances

Irritant and allergic contact eczemas may be caused by prolonged or repeated contact with water and skin-damaging hazardous substances because of the specific wet work conducted in hairdressing salons. Wet work involves activities in which employees carry out work in a wet environment for a substantial proportion of their working hours, wearing liquid-tight (occlusive) gloves or washing their hands frequently or intensively. Typical wet work in the hairdressing profession involves, for instance, hair shampooing and working with (cutting, setting, etc.) wet hair. Frequent contact of the skin with water, aqueous products or wet hair can lead to irritant skin damage and sensitisation (development of allergies). An increased incidence of skin damage is to be expected, particularly if the hands are exposed to wet work for several hours each day. Liquid-tight protective gloves may also contribute to irritant skin damage if they are worn permanently or incorrectly. Wet work is an important contributing factor to an increased risk of skin damage, as it weakens the skin’s function as a protective barrier against irritants and sensitising substances. Hence, particularly in the case of trainees and temporary workers, care should be taken to ensure that they are not exposed excessively to wet work. Handling of hair cosmetics may also be associated with irritant damage and sensitisation (allergies) on pre-damaged skin due to inappropriate protective measures. This applies to shampoos and care products, hair colourant products, permanent wave liquids and styling products. Furthermore, cleaning and disinfecting products can also cause irritant dermatitis and sensitisation (allergy) in conjunction with frequent skin contact or improper use.

Social partners within the framework of the European social dialogue highlight skin diseases as sector specific and a high risk. For this reason, they launched the Safehair[7] project. This initiative included research and the development of training and practical tools to support hairdressing salons prevent occupational skin diseases.

Psychosocial factors

Psychosocial risk factors[8] often associated with the hairdressing sector include time pressure, lack of control in organising the work and taking breaks, lack of support by colleagues or superiors, lack of appreciation or rewards, conflicts, lack of career development opportunities, imbalance between work and private life, sexual harassment, aggression and violence and teasing at work. Some of these factors can also increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders[9]. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of both the risks and the preventive actions that can be taken. In order to avoid the above conflicts and misunderstandings, the employer should prepare a clear plan outlining work times, tasks, responsibilities and decision-making powers, as stipulated in Article 6 of the European social partners’ Framework Agreement on Work-related Stress (October 2004). In the EFA, both sectoral social partners confirm their commitment to this European agreement on work-related stress.

Biological factors — hygiene

Biological factors, such as bacteria, viruses and fungal spores, can cause infections and diseases. The most effective way to contain these microorganisms is through the adoption of strict hygiene measures and the use of freshly prepared disinfectants. Hands should be washed regularly with antibacterial soap. Cuts and abrasions should be covered with waterproof dressings. To prevent any possible infection from microorganisms associated with communicable infectious diseases, equipment should not be reused on the next client until it has been thoroughly washed and disinfected. Here the use of gloves can also protect from diseases. As for all workplaces, washrooms and toilets must also be kept clean and disinfected.

Physical factors (microclimate, noise, lighting)

The microclimate parameters (room temperature and humidity, rate of indoor air exchange, etc.) should be adjusted to provide the maximum comfort for both employees and clients. A stressful microclimate may induce work accidents and discomfort. Proper maintenance of the air-conditioning system is therefore important. The work areas must be adequately illuminated by natural or artificial light. If this is not the case, sore eyes as a result of excessive straining can be the cause of an accident. Poor lighting can also induce headaches. It is also important to reduce noise distractions, e.g., volume of background music.

Electrical risk

A hairdressing salon is equipped with a variety of electrical of electrical equipment. These devices are usually used in the proximity of wet conditions and, if they are not cared for, there will always be the danger of electric shocks. For this reason, maintenance of electrical equipment is vital. A qualified electrician must inspect the electrical wiring and equipment regularly. Electrical cords, plugs and sockets should be properly insulated, and safety relays installed. Intake filters in blow wavers and hairdryers should be regularly cleaned or replaced to prevent insufficient flow and overheating. Important safety points to remember are to always store electrical equipment away from moist or wet areas, never to touch electrical devices with wet hands and to switch off and unplug devices before cleaning. All electrical equipment must be certified and all safety requirements for their use should be fulfilled.

Slips, trips and falls

A hairdressing salon must be spacious and organised in such a way as to provide free movement of both staff and clients. Proper organisation in this respect means that footstools, equipment, coat hangers, product displays, magazine racks, etc. do not obstruct free passage. In addition, to prevent trips care must be taken so that electrical cables or cords do not cross the salon’s floor. To prevent slips, all floor surfaces must be dried and immediately cleaned from spills and hair constantly swept away. The floor surface must be horizontal, void of cracks or tile breakages and slip proof. Proper storage and easy access of utensils, liquid or semi-liquid package products are essential to avoid accidents from falls.

Burns and cuts

Contact with hairdryers and steamers that may have hot surfaces can cause burns. Care must also be taken to avoid continuous contact with excessive hot water. It is important that all utensils like scissors, razors or clippers are handled carefully, kept in good condition and stored with protective coverings. This is necessary to avoid severe cuts from their sharp edges and pointed ends when retrieving them from storage. Bad lighting, increased work intensity and prolonged hours or work can also contribute to cuts.

Fire risks

All three parameters necessary to initiate and propagate a fire coexist in the work environment of a hairdressing salon: hot electrical surfaces, flammable products and air. In order to minimise the risk of fire, one must isolate one parameter from the other. This can be achieved by proper storage of hair products, aerosols and solvents away from hot surfaces or heated utensils, preferably in fire-proof cabinets. The salon should be equipped with fire extinguishers, fire blankets, sprinklers and a fire alarm. An emergency plan should be designed, and all employees should become familiar with it and participate in any emergency drills.

The social partners (and the social dialogue) and OSH

Convinced that preserving the good health of all persons working in hair salons will contribute to protecting jobs and securing the economic future of hairdressing and businesses, the EU social partners made a priority of fostering an integrated approach for the prevention of risks and protection and promotion of OSH in the hairdressing sector. This has been done since the Sectoral Dialogue Committee for the Personal Services was created back in 1999.

The EU social partners

UNI Europa[10] is part of UNI Global Union, which represents around 1,000 trade unions in 140 countries and seven million workers in 330 European trade unions. As the European trade union federation for services and communication, it is responsible for social dialogue with the corresponding employers’ organisations in various areas of activity in the service sector, including personal services, for which it has a specific section called ‘Hair & Beauty’.

Coiffure EU[11] is the association of employers’ organisations active in the field of hairdressing in the EU and a member of UEAPME (European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises). Eighteen European Countries have joined Coiffure EU

The social partners have been engaged in European sectoral social dialogue for many years, with the aim of achieving increased harmonisation between the quality of service and employment conditions across the EU. The Sectoral Dialogue Committee for the Personal Services Committee meets regularly, in annual plenary meetings and working groups, and has been holding additional negotiation meetings on training and OSH issues. As part of this dialogue, several joint texts dealing, partly or completely, with OSH have been negotiated and adopted over the years. At the same time very ambitious OSH related projects and initiatives have also been undertaken.

In 2012, the committee negotiated a European framework agreement and jointly requested that the European Commission make a proposal to the EU Council to make the agreement legally binding in line with Article 155 TFEU. The social partners’ request for implementation was however stalled by the European Commission. The social partners launched a vigorous advocacy and lobbying campaign to obtain a positive reply.

The Hairdressing agreement became a test-case for the sector and for European Social Dialogue as a whole. Faced by the institutional lack of decision, the social partners conducted a revision of the initial agreement and concluded the European Framework Agreement on the protection of occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector in 2016[3]. The European Commission provided its support to improve the agreement’s compatibility with EU law. The social partners reintroduced their request to submit the agreement to Council for its implementing decision. Despite the revision, the social partners’ request was not followed-up. The agreement contains OHS measures and sets out principles of work organisation.

The social partners advocated with DG Employment and succeeded in striking a deal for the implementation of the Agreement. An Action Plan to support the implementation of the Agreement in January 2018 was agreed. On 4 December 2019, the social partners adopted a Joint Statement on the autonomous implementation of the Hairdressing Social Partner Agreement in the hairdressing sector[12]. The social partners confirmed their commitment to implement the agreed activities and to trigger tools to achieve the goals set out in the Agreement: improved protection of the skin and respiratory tract, ergonomic workplaces and accident prevention and safety at work.

The agreed Action Plan is currently implemented with the support of DG EMPL, DG GROW, EU-OSHA, CEN, and others relevant bodies. The approval of the Action Plan has enabled stakeholders to implement related activities through a collaborative approach. The Agreement’s implementation efforts demonstrate that when a legislative initiative is not an option, other means of implementation ought to be considered. Instead of a Directive, it was agreed, to pursue the implementation of the sought-after measures in a tripartite fashion in close cooperation between the social partners and the European Commission services.

It is important to mention that in its efforts to implement the Action Plain social partners are building on their previous work carried out in the field of OSH. We would like to underline here the following two research projects already mentioned above:

  • SafeHair 1.0 and 2.0[13] in 2010 and 2011 (including the ‘SafeHair Skin&Beauty Toolbox’[14])
  • ERGOHAIR[15] – Development and promotion of a healthy and safe working environment through the design of ergonomic workplaces and work processes in the hairdressing sector

We would also mention the following strategic documents and statements signed by the social partners over the years:

  • How to get along code’ — Guidelines for European hairdressers[16]
  • Covenant on Health and Safety between European Social Partners in the Hairdressing Industry[17]
  • ‘Declaration of Dresden”[18]
  • ‘Declaration on health and safety in the hairdressing sector’[19]
  • ERGOHAIR declaration – Brussels[20]

In December 2020, the social partners adopted a second joint statement[21] confirming that several actions had been engaged: improving the enforcement of the EU Cosmetics Regulation and ensuring the safety of cosmetics used in the sector; improving OHS in the sector by reviewing the Guidelines relating to the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation; developing sector guidance to support the practical application of the Agreement for workers and employers; developing joint actions with EU OSHA; and cooperating with the Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee. A project to support the implementation of the Agreement was granted under the 2019 EU call for proposals to support social dialogue and social partners engaged research to identify and prioritise hazardous chemical substances in cosmetics. Social partners were also able to launch the standardisation of PPE in the sector.

Social partner agreements can be implemented through close cooperation between the social partners and the European Commission services in innovative ways. The social partners, working together with the European Commission, developed a third way to implement social partner agreements. The endorsement at high political level of the Action Plan enabled the social partners to engage with stakeholders in the cosmetics industry and to account the high exposure to chemical substances among hairdressers. Such insights and advances would not have been attainable had the social partners not agreed to pursue the implementation of their Agreement through other means than a legislative proposal. Should the European Commission commit politically to implement social partner agreements, a non-legislative, tripartite avenue of implementation is possible. The hairdresser case demonstrates that there is a third way between implementation through law and by social partners on their own. This takes the form of implementation by the social partners and the European Commission using the social partners’ self-regulatory competences as well as European actions of a non-legislative nature.

European Social Dialogue can effectively come to life if there is political commitment for social partner agreements’ implementation. The hairdressing agreement remains a test-case for European Social Dialogue and the social partners, with the support of the European Commission, pursue its implementation through non-legislative means.

Implementation of the social partners agreement (SPA)

In the first quarter of 2019 an action plan foreseen to support the autonomous implementation of the agreement by the social partners was discussed and agreed. The following activities were agreed upon with the relevant stakeholders :

1. Improve the effective enforcement of the EU Cosmetics Regulation and raise awareness to ensure safety of cosmetics used in the hairdressing sector.

2. Improve occupational health and safety situation in the hairdressing sector by reviewing/updating/clarifying the rules on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

3. Develop sector guidance to support the practical application of the SPA for workers and employers in the hairdressing sector, particularly in micro and small enterprises.

These non-binding guidelines[22] were prepared by DG EMPL in line with the conclusions of the discussions at different meetings held with the Social Partners throughout 2019 - 2021. This publication addresses national administrations (including National Labour Inspectorates), which in turn should adapt the brochure to their respective countries to effectively reach individual hairdressers.

4. Consider the SPA in the activities developed by EU-OSHA. Over the years, EU-OSHA and sectoral partners have been collaborating in the task of improving OSH in the sector. Below some examples of this cooperation:

  • Social partners are involved in EU-OSHA´s campaigns as “campaign partners” (campaign on Dangerous Substance, MSDs, …) and in the framework of these campaigns different activities were / are carried to better manage OSH in the hairdressing industry.
  • Publication of a Discussion paper on “The musculoskeletal health of hairdressers”[5].
  • Publication (and regular update) of this OSHwiki article.
  • EU-OSHA´s dissemination and communication channels (website, newsletter, social media, …) contributed and contribute to promote the SPA and its implementation.
  • The OiRA project and the 13 OiRA hairdressing tools published in different Member States (have also contributed to the implementation of the SPA in the field.

5. Actions by Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee (SLIC). SLIC´s inspection campaign on musculoskeletal disorders covers the hairdressing sector. Practical materials supporting the European labour inspectors were produced within the framework of this campaign.

6. Funding for social dialogue projects

In 2020 European social partners launched the project “Promoting the autonomous implementation of the European framework agreement on occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector”, which aims to facilitate and advance the implementation of the results of European social dialogue outcomes, mainly the European framework agreement.

The project is structured around three themes: (1) to identify and prioritise by risk category hazardous and harmful chemical substances contained in cosmetic products; (2) to issue a methodological note on the risk assessment procedure used by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) concerning the professional use of cosmetic products rather than a consumer’s use of these products and (3) the follow-up, promotion and monitoring of the autonomous implementation of the revised European Framework Agreement on occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector at national level.

7. Monitor the implementation of the activities

The social partners regularly review the progress achieved based on the agreed Action Plan within the framework of their dedicated Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee meetings.

  1. Eurofound (2016), Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Personal services–hair and beauty sector, Dublin. 2011, Study on social policy effects resulting from the scope of application of the European framework agreement on the prevention of health risks in the hairdressing sector, 2011
  2. European Agency for Safety and Health, Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector, 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=521&langId=en&agreementId=5460
  4. European Agency for Safety and Health, Occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector, 2014. and E-fact 34 - Risk assessment for Hairdressers https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/e-fact-34-risk-assessment-hairdressers
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kozak A, et al., Musculoskeletal Health of Hairdressers – Protection of Occupational Health and Safety at Workplace, Medical Reference Document, ergohair, 2019 and European Agency for Safety and Health, The musculoskeletal health of hairdressers, 2019. https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/musculoskeletal-health-hairdressers
  6. https://www.ergohair.eu/
  7. https://www.safehair.eu/safehair/homepage/
  8. EU- OSHA, E-fact 34 – Risk assessment for Hairdressers, Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/es/publications/e-fact-34-risk-assessment-hairdressers
  9. EU-OSHA, Musculoskeletal disorders: association with psychosocial risk factors at work, Available at: https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/musculoskeletal-disorders-association-psychosocial-risk-factors-work
  10. http://www.uniglobalunion.org/sectors/hair-beauty/about-us
  11. http://www.coiffure.eu/
  12. https://www.uni-europa.org/old-uploads/2019/12/20191204_JointSPStatementActionPlanImplementation_Final.pdf
  13. https://www.safehair.eu/safehair/homepage/
  14. https://www.safehair.eu/safehair/safehair-20/
  15. https://www.ergohair.eu/
  16. https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=521&langId=en&agreementId=129
  17. https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=521&langId=en&agreementId=1203
  18. https://www.safehair.eu/safehair/safehair-10/declaration-of-dresden/
  19. https://ec.europa.eu/social/BlobServlet?docId=7698&langId=en
  20. https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=521&langId=en&agreementId=5596
  21. https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=521&langId=en&agreementId=5696
  22. https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=738&langId=en&pubId=8436&furtherPubs=yes

Contributors

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