Body art industry lacks regulations

Government a step closer to legislation; artist advocates safe practices

Tara Bradbury
Published on June 2, 2012
Tattoo artist and Trouble Bound Tattoos owner Dave Munro. – Telegram file photo

The province has completed what it says is the last part of the process to introduce legislation pertaining to personal services, including the tattoo industry.

Officials with the Department of Health and Community Services recently held meetings with members of the local tattoo industry to discuss what they feel is needed when it comes to regulations in the business.

A number of local tattoo artists have long been calling on the government to set laws and guidelines when it comes to tattoos and piercings; an industry that, apart from annual business inspections carried out by municipalities, is self-regulated.

Trouble Bound Tattoos owner Dave Munro has been one of the most vocal when it comes to the need for such laws. He gave his views to the Health Department earlier this week, but also presented his recommendations to the government more than two years ago. Accountability and disclosure are not required in the tattoo and piercing industry in this province, and the government currently does nothing to ensure safe practices are followed, he said.

Munro reckons there may be close to 100 people doing tattoos and piercings from their homes in St. John’s, and said a tattoo gun can easily be bought on eBay. When it comes to businesses in the field, customers have no way of knowing which ones follow federal guidelines for safety standards.

“You would love to see something as clean and sterile as a dental office or your general doctor’s office — you expect a certain standard of procedural practice,” Munro said. “In certain workplaces you require people to know CPR. In certain workplaces you require people to know how to handle blood-borne pathogens. There needs to be assurance that people are following proper disposal techniques for bio-hazardous material, and that age restrictions are put in place (by) government (for) dealing with minors.”

Consequences of getting a tattoo or piercing in the wrong environment can range from streptococcal bacteria infections to hepatitis, Munro said. Many people are hepatitis carriers and don’t realize it, he added.

Munro would like to see the regulations on the industry be quite strict. Among his recommendations to the government for inclusion in potential legislation are that equipment and instruments used in tattooing or piercing be sterilized, and sterilization be  documented in a log; needles be properly disposed of in bio-hazard containers; third-party monitoring of the sterilization process, which he said could be done through spore testing and surprise visits from inspectors, the plastic containers holding ink never be reused; and consent forms and contact details be kept on file for every client.

Munro would like to see tattoo artists required to obtain a health permit before they can practice, proving they are at least 18, free of communicable diseases, have a minimum of six months’ experience, have been tested for tuberculosis and immunized against hepatitis A and B, and have obtained a certain score on a written examination, among other qualifications.

Newfoundland and Labrador could look to other provinces, such as Alberta, for ideas on tattooing and piercing guidelines, Munro said.

“A number of cities in Canada are contemplating licensing tattooists, but even then, you’re not necessarily licensing their capacity to do a tattoo. You’re licensing their health consciousness,” he said. “A level of buyer-beware will still be there.”

In March 2006, a 17-year-old

St. John’s girl died of toxic shock syndrome after having her nipple pierced a week earlier. Government officials discussed the idea of regulating the industry at that time.

Early last year, a mother in Conception Bay South went to the media after her 14-year-old son obtained lip piercings from a home studio in the community without her consent. Then-health minister Jerome Kennedy asked officials to review the issue at that point, and review what was being done in other areas.

Health Minister Susan Sullivan is out of the province and was unavailable for comment Friday. A statement was emailed to The Telegram from a spokesman for the department.

“Over the past several months, the provincial government has put a great deal of work into examining the issue of legislation pertaining to the personal services industry, including preliminary discussions with the cancer control advisory committee and monitoring other jurisdictions,” the statement said. “This work has been carried out with the intention of introducing legislation during this sitting of the House of Assembly that will address the regulation of personal services. The last piece of this process was to have discussions with key stakeholders in the industry. These discussions have now taken place.”

Twitter: @tara_bradbury