Not pretty: Health violations in Manitoba nail salons go unreported
Estheticians call for more regulation in the beauty industry
Manitobans looking for a little pampering in some spas or salons may be putting themselves at risk of infection — although if there's a problem, they're unlikely to find out about it.
Manitoba Health has released inspection reports from a handful of nail salons to the CBC I-Team. The reports reveal numerous health and safety infractions — and all but two salons were repeat offenders.
The inspection reports detail a lack of sterilization of equipment, unsatisfactory cleaning procedures between clients, and workers reusing single-use items on multiple clients.
A series of reports on Aloha Nails on Regent dating back to April 2012 details non-compliance with equipment sterilization practices and other concerns. In another report from August 2013, lab analysis of water samples taken from five foot baths found the bacteria Pseudomonas in four of the samples.
A year later, testing at foot baths in several Aloha locations revealed more bacteria. Of seven foot spas tested at Aloha's Pembina location, five tested positive for Pseudomonas; of four sampled at the St. Mary's Road location, two tested positive for the bacteria; at the McPhillips location, one of four foot baths tested positive.
Health inspectors sent a letter to Aloha outlining 15 health concerns at four of its locations. Among them: improper sterilization of tools.
"Technicians will require multiple sets of tools," the inspector wrote, "so that they can continue on with another client using a clean, disinfected set while the other set is being disinfected."
Inspection reports on Chic Nails on Goulet Street highlight repeat offences. In June 2010, the spa was ordered to disinfect all foot baths and to stop "cutting cuticles and breaking skin without sterilizing implements." It was also told to buy an autoclave, a machine that uses high-pressure steam to sterilize tools.
A year later, the inspector was back following a lengthy complaint from a bridal party that alleged staff had reused improperly sterilized tools on multiple people and employed a "visibly used emery board, pumice stone and nail buffer."
The complaint alleges a member of the bridal party asked for new single-use tools and the employee "laughed." She pushed again and the employee "reluctantly" provided single-use tools.
Chic Nails was given a dozen recommendations to bring it in line with health standards. A week later, a subsequent inspection found the salon was substantially cleaner but it was still reusing non-reusable tools. The inspector issued a warning.
Carter Chen, who speaks for Chic Nails, acknowledged the report findings and said the bridal party complaint was likely due to a language barrier.
"We are committed to all the Manitoba Health requirements," Chen said. "And we are committed to providing clients with clean and safe salon services always and better diligence with our staff."
Saigon Nails on Ness Avenue also had issues. In August 2011, a customer complained about a rash after getting a pedicure. Water samples taken from three foot baths all tested positive for Pseudomonas and one of them also tested positive for total coliforms.
The salon was ordered to super-chlorinate all foot bath jet systems and refrain from using them until two consecutive lab reports could confirm they were safe. It took several months to bring the levels of bacteria down to acceptable levels.
Inspectors had to review proper foot bath sanitizing procedures with staff again in 2013 and caution staff about reusing single-use tools in 2014. Its last inspection report in September 2014 notes, "The premise was clean at this time and there were no issues at this time."
'Visible signs of slime and dirt on foot spas'
The problems aren't confined to Winnipeg. In Steinbach, Man., two establishments were inspected in July 2014 following customer complaints.
Inspectors found "visible signs of slime and dirt on foot spas" at LC Nails. At Eva Nails, the inspector discovered improperly cleaned foot spas, nail dust on workstations, no sharps containers and contaminated nail gel. Both salons resolved their issues.
The owner of LC Nails said there have been no repeat slime issues in the foot spas.
"We clean every day," Tina Pham told the I-Team. "We put a cup of bleach in the water and we soak about 15 minutes after every client."
At Eva Nails, Nhu Quyng Nguyen told the I-Team it keeps a clean shop and now cleans its tools with soap and water before putting them in a sterilizer.
'3 strikes, you're out,' says esthetician
When a restaurant or pool fails an inspection, the results are posted on the province's website. Not so for salons and spas.
Manitoba has never required annual inspections for salons and spas. The only thing that triggers a health inspection at a salon or spa is a complaint from the public, and unless the inspection results in a fine or closure of the spa, the results are not made public.
"They're just getting a slap on the wrist," said Jocelyn Diamond, an esthetician who wants to see tougher industry regulation.
"If it's the same thing happening over and over again, they're not learning from their mistakes."
Diamond believes chronic offenders should be shut down.
"Three strikes, you're out," Diamond said. "If you're doing the same thing over and over again, you should be closed."
Manitoba's chief public health inspector admits that visiting chronic offenders does get frustrating.
"It concerns us that these people sometimes just aren't getting it, and they need to be constantly reminded," Mike LeBlanc said.
"I guess you're always going to have people who are going to cut corners or save a few pennies or something like that by reusing stuff."
Monitoring approach won't change, says province
LeBlanc said inspectors don't have the power to close a nail salon. Only a medical officer of health can order a nail salon to be shut down if there is proof that allowing operations to continue would cause a major risk to the public, such as by exposing clients to hepatitis B or C. LeBlanc said so far, that hasn't happened.
Diamond would like to see the province make regular inspections of salons and post notices of infractions on its website, as it does for restaurants.
"At a restaurant, you're dealing with food you ingest, but here you're dealing with tools that can cut you — same types of tools that doctors and dentists use," Diamond said.
"It needs to be public knowledge. People need to know where they can go that's safe for them."
However, Manitoba Health is prioritizing restaurants and pools and doesn't see a need to change its approach to monitoring spas and salons. According to LeBlanc, inspectors only get one or two complaints a month, and there are nearly 1,000 businesses in Manitoba offering spa and salon services.
"We believe we're doing a pretty good job," LeBlanc said. "We're getting to the places that need attention. We can't be everywhere at once."
"With any industry, even with restaurants, we're just dropping in there. We're just getting a snapshot in time," LeBlanc added.
"The public can be our eyes and ears. We encourage them to contact us and to let us know what they're seeing. If we receive a complaint, we will investigate it."
To contact the CBC I-Team about this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the confidential tip line at 204-788-3744.
With files from Holly Moore, Samantha Samson