Ottawa mulls infection safeguards for spas, tattoo parlours

Ottawa's board of health discussed a motion ordering Ottawa Public Health to explore ways to better improve infection prevention and control practices at personal services settings.
Inspector Christian Lapensee explains the tools of the trade and offers advice on what customers can look out for. 3:28

Esthetician Silvana Marotta has been running a business out of her home for about 20 years. She's not only heard the horror stories of clients who had bad pedicures elsewhere, she's got a story of her own.

What is a personal service setting?

Personel services settings offer any one of these services:

  • Body piercing
  • Body modification
  • Branding
  • Scarification
  • Implants
  • Medical spa services (by non-medical person)
  • Tattooing
  • Acupuncture
  • Micropigmentation (permanent make-up)
  • Electrolysis
  • Laser hair removal
  • Ear lobe piercing
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Manicures
  • Pedicures
  • Cosmetics (make-up)
  • Aesthetics (waxing, facials, etc)
  • Hair salons & barbers
  • Tanning
  • Massage

Marotta said she was tired of doing her own pedicure before heading on vacation to Dubai, so she went to a Barrhaven nail salon.While there, the nail technician cut one of her toes, Marotta said, and within one week she lost the toenail due to fungus thought to be caused by the cut.

"They gave me a discount and that's it, and I said, 'I'll never be back here,'" Marotta said.

Ottawa's board of health met Monday and discussed a motion ordering Ottawa Public Health to explore ways to better improve infection prevention and control practices at personal service settings, a broad category of businesses that includes everything from tattoo parlours to spas. (See sidebar.)

Marotta said she agrees with the idea of increased inspections and tighter control on infection prevention. She believes there is a divide between nail salons that take extra precautions and those salons that focus more on efficiency and low costs.

Ottawa public health inspectors already inspect businesses in the personal services industry as part of their responsibilities outlined in the provincial Infection Prevention and Control in Personal Services Protocol.

But finding all of these businesses can prove a challenge, said Dr. Carolyn Pim, the associate medical officer of health.

"Some of them are quite informal," said Pim. "There's a lot of turnover, a lot of movement. Some opening up, some closing. It's difficult for us to know where they all are."

1 in 4 businesses with low-risk settings inspected

Disposable items used in a manicure or pedicure should not be reused, health inspectors say. (CBC)

Public health inspectors conducted 268 total inspections in 2012 to the 230 so-called high-risk personal service settings, such as tattoo parlours and piercing facilities that break the skin of customers in the course of their work.

But Ottawa Public Health inspected only about a quarter of the 650 low-risk settings — businesses that include spas and hair salons.

"Our inspectors have a bunch of responsiblities. That includes food facilities, outbreak management and so on. And we're constantly balancing those priorities," said Pim.

Spa safety tips

  • Spas should not be reusing disposable manicure/pedicure tools. To ensure it's new, customers might want to watch them get taken out of the package.
  • Footbaths should be filled with disinfectant and run through so the disinfectant gets into all the jets and plumbing. Then it needs to sit for ten minutes before it is flushed. If the bath is still warm from the last customer, you could be at risk.
  • Ask what procedures are in place for tools that get reused. If answers are unclear, that's a warning sign.

Courtesy | Ottawa Public Health

Inspector Christian Lapense said Ottawa's health department has never had reports of outbreaks connected to spas, but added no venue is risk-free and Ottawa public health officials are looking at how to keep on top of infection control.

One of the options health staff could consider would be to have inspections of personal service settings posted online, similar to the what officials do with restaurant inspections.

Another option on the table is the requirement to license these businesses, as Toronto's city council voted to do in November.

Donna Holtum with Holtz Spa said she welcomes licensing as an option.

"I think this will only improve and raise the quality of service and protect the consumer," she said.