Nova Scotia

Tattoo artists to be regulated

Tattoo artists in Nova Scotia would be required to have a permit and meet standards for cleanliness and infection control under legislation introduced Wednesday.
Amber Thorpe, a tattoo artist who has been pushing for new guidelines, said she's happy about the new legislation. (CBC)

Tattoo artists in Nova Scotia would be required to have a permit and meet standards for cleanliness and infection control under legislation introduced Wednesday.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said the body art industry needs to be regulated to help protect the public from the risk of disease.

She said regulations are needed because the industry has evolved in recent years to include branding, scarification, tongue splitting and implants, in addition to body piercing and tattoos.

"Establishments that offer these and other services require that the skin be intentionally broken, which creates a risk for the transmission of infectious diseases and blood-borne pathogens," said MacDonald, citing HIV and hepatitis C as examples.

Amber Thorpe, a tattoo artist who has been pushing for new guidelines, said Wednesday she's happy new legislation was introduced.

"I feel like the past five years has come to the point where it's actually happening now. It kind of feels good. We got somewhere and I think the public really wants it," she told CBC News.

"It's not sailors or bikers anymore — everyone and their dog has a tattoo. It's actually almost rarer to meet someone without a tattoo than with a tattoo."

New guidelines could include having non-porous surfaces so they can be cleaned properly, sanitizing equipment and separate hand-washing areas for tattoo and body piercing artists.

MacDonald said the government would develop a regulatory process and technical guidelines. The government would also establish a team of three inspectors to enforce the rules at an estimated cost of $380,000.

New rules to be phased in

She said the government also wants to curtail the activities of so-called "scratchers" — a term for untrained body artists who usually operate outside the industry in homes or other establishments.

It could take up to a year before the regulations are in place, she said, and the new rules will be phased in to give tattoo operators time to make the necessary changes.

Right now, the government does not have basic information such as how many people are in the tattoo business in Nova Scotia.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said inspectors would look for a number of factors — access to hot running water, sterile equipment, general knowledge of basic infection control — to determine whether businesses were complying with general hygiene practices.

He said regulations should offer some basic safeguards.

"Are they using sterile equipment to pierce the skin? Do they have appropriate cleaning mechanisms if there's blood or other body fluids that are spilled? Broadly in those kinds of areas."

Health Department officials said seven other jurisdictions in the country — including municipalities and provinces — regulate the body art industry in some form.

Liberal health critic Leo Glavine said he hoped Nova Scotia's regulations would mirror those in Alberta, which he called the "gold standard."

Teen death in 2006

That province has standards for equipment sterilization and pre- and post-tattooing skin care. Artists are also required to use fresh dyes on each customer, who must sign dated consent forms confirming they are 18 years of age or older before having a tattoo done.

Thorpe, who has worked as a tattoo artist in Ontario and Alberta, said she was surprised when she moved to Nova Scotia to open up a shop.

"I realized that there weren't any regulations in place and anyone could do it without even having any knowledge of sterilization or keeping their clients safe," she said.

Steven Sutherland, a retired tattoo artist with 40 years of experience, said he believed regulations would be welcomed by most professional studios.

"For the people that are on the cusp of being professionals, it would bring them up to a professional standard and do a lot to safeguard the public," said Sutherland.

The potential perils of lax safety practices in the body art industry were highlighted in 2006 with the death of a teen in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The province's coroner said the 17-year-old girl died after getting an infection from a body piercing.

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