With the combination of cuticle nippers, chemicals, and customers, there is always the risk of an accident — and a lawsuit. The best defense is to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
You’re talking with a client and you realize you were a little too aggressive with her cuticle and it has started to bleed. You apologize, clean up the area, finish her service, and send her on her way. Three weeks later she returns and you notice the cuticle area is now swollen, red, and tender. You ask your client about it and she reminds you that “you did it” at the last appointment. What do you do? Do you feign ignorance, stumble over yourself to apologize, or tell her “it’ll be fine” and continue the service? Be careful how you answer. You might assume responsibility for something that isn’t your fault.
Accidents happen. Whether it’s a cut cuticle or file burn, techs are going to have to deal with “uh-oh” situations. It’s a smart nail tech who has a system of both prevention and protection in place to prepare for the inevitable accident. Though a guide doesn’t exist that directs us how to handle every situation, it’s safe to assume we can follow some general principles that will protect not only us, but the clients we service. The best way to be protected from the consequences of a salon mishap is to try to prevent it in the first place. “Always take your time when performing services. Haste can result in injuries,” says Marianne Light, a former California state board inspector. “Always give your customer your full attention. Talking with others in the store, answering the phone, or being distracted in any way can result in injury.”
But let’s assume you always give your clients your undivided attention, and you are never rushed during a service. And let’s assume that despite these idyllic conditions, a mishap still happens in the salon and you hurt your client in some way: The wax was too hot, the cuticle got cut, or maybe the skin under the toenail was sliced open while you shortened the nails. How do you protect yourself and your client?
Protection comes by making sure you’re following regulations, fully insured, and consistent. “State boards don’t have clear-cut guidelines,” says Doug Schoon, chief scientific advisor for CND, “but we can apply some universal precautions laid out by the Centers for Disease Control.” For something like a cuticle cut, care for it at the desk. Put on a pair of gloves to avoid blood-borne pathogens, says Schoon. HIV, certain forms of hepatitis, and MRSA can all be spread through contact with blood. With gloves on, take a cotton ball and apply pressure to stop the bleeding, and put on a Band-Aid if needed. Then, continues Schoon, take whatever disposable items touched the wound — the file, the cotton, the gloves — and put them in a sealed plastic bag. Put the sealed bag with its contents into a second sealed bag. The bag should be marked as biohazard waste to alert anyone who may rummage through the garbage. Any non-disposable items, such as nippers, should be washed and then soaked in an EPA-registered disinfectant. Mark the client card, indicating the date of the incident and how you treated the situation.
If the client comes in two weeks later and the area is red and inflamed, don’t touch that nail. “If it’s not healthy and not intact,” says Schoon, “don’t work on it.” Tell the client she ought to see a doctor because the area doesn’t look good to you. “The best way to get sued is to practice medicine. A tech should avoid telling a client that ‘it’ll be OK.’ Instead, remain a neutral party,” Schoon advises. This isn’t because you want to be deceptive or avoid responsibility, it’s because your license limits you from diagnosing any problem with a client’s nail or skin. Number two, you really can’t say with certainty that it was your fault that a client now has the problem. If a client comes in and you have properly cleaned your work space, cleaned and disinfected the client have washed your hands, it’s very unlikely an infection could develop even if the skin is compromised. So, an infection wouldn’t be caused from something picked up at the salon. You don’t know how the client cared for the cut once she left the salon, but if everything in the salon was clean and disinfected, it’s unlikely the cut was infected there.
Now this doesn’t protect you entirely. A client could still be convinced that the infection, burn, or sore she has is a result of a service she received at your salon. She may even threaten legal action. If that happens, contact your insurance company as soon as she leaves. However, your insurance company is going to have some questions, and how you answer the questions will reveal how you’ve protected yourself. Schoon has been an expert witness for more than a dozen lawsuits against salons and salon professionals, so he knows what gets techs in trouble. “Attorneys on the other side will look to see if you consistently follow code in regard to cleaning and disinfecting,” he says. “They’ll look at client records, your appointment book, even your ordering receipts.”
It’s going to be hard to prove you change disinfectant regularly, for example, if you haven’t ordered disinfectant in a year, says Schoon. It’s vital to consistently follow state regulations regarding sanitizing and disinfecting your work area, because it provides protection if your reputation and integrity is ever called into question. “Understand your state board regulations and follow them to the letter,” says Schoon. “Too many nail techs don’t properly disinfect and clean every time.” Your insurance company and the opposing company will look over the history of how you follow regulations; they won’t limit their investigation to a particular situation. Your habits, your bookkeeping, and your client records will weigh heavily in determining your liability.
Yes, mistakes happen, but you can be prepared. Prevent an accident by relying on your skills and ability. Protect yourself from a potential malpractice claim by following the state’s regulations.
How to Protect Yourself
1. Take your time with each client and give them your full attention.
2. Keep your salon clean, and follow state board regulations in regards to disinfection.
3. Keep records of how and when you disinfect implements and pedicure tubs.
4. If there is an accident, keep detailed records of what happened, the date, and how you handled the situation.
5. Take proper precautions when blood is present. Use latex gloves and dispose of or disinfect, as appropriate, any items that touched the wound.
6. Refer the client to a doctor if anything seems wrong.
7. Resist the temptation to give a medical opinion of any kind. Never promise, “It will be OK.” Remain neutral.
8. Contact your insurance company immediately if a client threatens legal action.