Often targeted by the industry for their supposed lack of knowledge and infrequent inspections, salon inspectors argue that they do the best they can with what they have. We went behind the scenes to find out what they do on the job, and how essential they really are to the industry.
Nail techs often complain that inspectors are inconsistent in their citing methods, not to mention are working with outdated rules and regulation. “The last time I saw an inspector, I didn’t feel he was as up to date as he could have been,” says Simmy Bredal-Bell, a nail tech at MLD III Salon, Spa & Studio in Clearwater, Fla. “I think they let many things go, such as dirty nail files.” But although nail techs might grumble and say the fines are unfair, inspectors say they try to be as consistent and fair as possible. “WE don’t want to fine one salon $100 and go to another salon and fine them $1,000,” says John Lartz, chief of business prosecution for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. “We take each case as it comes. Each one is unique. Of course if a nail tech doesn’t cooperate, she may have a heavier fine against her.”
Gruchalla admits that sometimes changes in the salon industry can occur more rapidly than the rules can keep up with. In Oregon, rule changes normally require a procedure that takes almost a year to implement, unless an emergency is declared. The rules must provide sufficient information so a nail tech or salon owner is able to understand them.
At the same time, they can’t be too rigid, finite, or inflexible that even minor industry changes could mean non-compliance.
Take the case of Jamie Whaling, a nail tech at The Nail Niche in Plymouth, Calif, who last year was fined $25 by an inspector who informed her the nail files she was using weren’t considered disinfectable and should be discarded after each use. What troubled Whaling was that she had been disinfecting her nail files without any incident since 1988. Whaling was told the fine would be waived once the violation was corrected.
“If I had a choice of investing, I’d invest more in training and outreach so nail techs would know to avoid problems as opposed to sending inspectors just to issue fines,” says Charles.
Still, some state boards are dead set against issuing citations, saying they consider themselves educators and not law enforcement officials. “I don’t like the concept of citing on site,” says Sansom. “We’re not the police.”
Yet for all the debate, one thing remains clear: no state board has the authority to close down a salon, regardless of how serious the infraction. They also do not have the authority to take away someone’s license without due process. The salon owner has to have notice of a hearing and the right to an attorney.
Salon Owners Should Do Their Part
For the most part, inspectors say salon owners and nail technicians generally follow the rules and do a good job of maintaining their businesses. “But there’s always going to be a percentage who try to violate the law – in any profession,” says Manna. “I’d say 75%-80% of licensees in Nevada are professional.”
And despite all the talk of unruly, uncooperative nail techs, there are many more who are pleasant to work with. “In general, I think our inspectors get a fair amount of respect,” say Charles. “People view our field staff as a resource.”
But following the rules is simply not enough. Manna suggests nail techs attend state board meetings to learn what really goes on behind those doors.
Becoming more involved in state board issues would mean sending a message to the legislature that nail techs and salon owners stand behind the industry and want to see positive change made.
Certainly, better education and better understanding of the rules would help alleviate some of the problems that abound today. “I believe that where salons understand the regulations there are fewer violations,” says King, who says some state boards are changing the wording to their rules and regulations to make it easier to understand.
Simply following the rules would make things a lot easier for all concerned – salon owners, nail technicians, and inspectors. And while the majority does abide by those rules, there will always be a few bad apples in the bunch. That’s where the role of the inspector and the state boards becomes necessary. Without them, how would a consumer be positively sure she was getting the best service possible? As Sansom puts it: “Government provides organization to society and prevents chaos. It exists to provide a pleasant place to live.”
A Day in the Life of a Nevada State Board Inspector
Susan Padilla has been an inspector for the Nevada State Board of Cosmetology for a little over two years. A salon owner for five years, Padilla came across an ad in the newspaper for an inspector position with the Nevada State Board of Cosmetology and called. Two years later, Padilla still works as the board’s Southern Nevada inspector, where she typically visits anywhere from 10-20 salons a day. Like any good inspector, Padilla keeps a log of each salon she visits on a given day, as well as any violation she comes across. “The majority of violations we find are sanitation-related,” says Padilla. “But we do find some unlicensed activity.” She also gives the salon owner or licensee in charge a copy of the report she filled out while inspecting the salon, and keeps a copy for herself. The following is an account of a recent day on the job.
7:00 a.m. Padilla arrives in the office. She uses this time to do paperwork, make phone calls, and find out what her itinerary for the day will be.
10:30 a.m. Padilla arrives at her first salon of the day. She finds nothing out of the ordinary, save for improper storage of nail files and buffers, which she promptly addresses. The salon staff is instructed to keep storage jars clean and closed at all times.
Padilla heads out to the next salon. A few months back, inspectors found the restroom sink had no hot water. The salon owner was issued a warning and was instructed to contact the board’s office once repairs were made. Non-compliance would have resulted in a $100 citation. When Padilla inspects the salon, she finds the restroom in satisfactory condition, complete with hot water.
11:25 a.m. Padilla stops in at the third salon of the day. Besides noting that some waste receptacles need lids and some scissors aren’t properly stored, she also finds the exhaust fan in the restroom is not working. She instructs the cosmetologist in charge to contact the board’s office once the proper repairs have been made.
1:40 p.m. After taking a lunch break, Padilla is back at work. After inspecting two salons and finding nothing eventful, she heads to another salon, where she discovers the owner has added a suite to the existing location. The suite includes a facial room, a restroom, and manicure stations. The owner must submit a new application, floor plan, and pay the proper fees, or remove the “Suite C” signs from outside of the building.
3:25 p.m. It’s almost the end of the day, and it has been smooth for the most part. Padilla heads to the next salon, where she informs the staff to replace all missing lids on closed waste receptacles and clean the restroom vent.
At the next stop, she discovers that a pedicure spa needs to be cleaned and waste receptacles need to have missing lids replaced.
Padilla finds several sanitation violations at her next destination. Besides a good floor cleaning, the airbrush station needs to be cleaned, nail implements need to be properly stored, and the sink could use a good scrubbing. Padilla issues the salon owner a warning. Further non-compliance will result in a citation being issued. Padilla informs the owner she has 72 hours to comply.
At her next stop, Padilla discovers that the hair salon also has a wax setup. Padilla issues the salon a warning, stating that if the salon would like to offer waxing services, then it must fill out a new application and pay new fees.
5:40 p.m. It’s Padilla’s last visit of the day. When she heads into the beauty supply and salon, she learns that there’s only a receptionist in charge. After speaking with the receptionist and learning the licensee was in earlier to work on a few clients but had since left because it was her regular day off, Padilla issues the owner a $200 citation. After that, Padilla calls it a day and heads home, ready to begin again tomorrow.
The Power of the [Delaware] People
Beginning this fall, the Delaware State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering will begin conducting random inspections – all thanks to a group of nail techs who fought for the change.
In 1997, as president of the Delaware Manicurists Alliance, Gina Marsilii lobbied for regular salon inspection. “Inspectors cost of state money and salons have been low on the totem pole,” says Marsilii, who also owns Perfect 10 Nail Salon & Day Spa in Wilmington, Del. “It seems that restaurants are their top priority.”
Previously, salons were only inspected after a complaint had been filed with the state board. Marsilii felt complaint-driven inspections weren’t the answer. “They don’t really protect the consumer because they’re done only after something happened,” she says.
According to Kevin Charles, chief of health systems protection for the Delaware Division of Public Health, having random inspections made sense most of the complaints the board receives center around nail salons.
“I think the salon industry has an obligation to help support regulatory agencies,” says Charles. “Look at what the nail salon industry in Delaware did. They approached the legislature and asked for random inspection.”