On March 7, 2003, Sherry Milford, owner of Victorian Nail Cottage in Nampa, Idaho, was working at her desk while a client sat soaking off her nails at a different table. When Milford walked across the carpet to hand the client an orangewood stick, a spark of static electricity caught the fumes of the acetone and burst into flames, igniting the product in the bowl — along with the client’s nails. Milford grabbed the fire extinguisher and sprayed the fire, but the force of the spray into the bowl of acetone caused the enflamed liquid to shoot out of the bowl and land in other areas of the salon.

Fortunately, the client was able to quickly extinguish the flames on her hands before she was burned, and Milford was able to quench the fire before the salon was damaged, but she was forced to close the shop that Friday and Saturday in order to get the spray from the fire extinguisher off the rugs, the furniture, and the rest of the salon.

A similar, or worse, situation could happen in any salon. Do you know how to prevent a fire, or some other potential problem, from occurring? Would you know what to do if you saw flames?

Many salon owners get their information about safety regulations from a state inspector — after the inspector comes in and cites the salon for a small infraction. But you can accident-proof your salon before the inspector gets there, and protect yourself from liability issues along the way.

Take a Fresh Look

Begin by taking a tour of your salon: Looking with critical eyes, take note of the condition of the parking lot. Are there ruts or holes that could cause clients to trip or fall? Do you plow efficiently in the winter so ice doesn’t create a hazard? How about the walkway, the stairs, or the sidewalk in front of the salon? Do you see any possible client catastrophes?

Walk into the salon. Are the floors dry? Are they free from clutter? Are there loose threads on the edges of the carpeting that need to be snipped?

You can meet many of the regulations from OSHA and your state by asking these simple questions and taking care of any problems you see, but often salon owners become so familiar with the look of the salon that they don’t notice the little things that could lead to big problems.

Walk further into the salon. Here safety issues may not be as noticeable. Are all your trashcans covered? Do you have any nails or picture hangers sticking out of the walls that need to be removed?

Next, look at your extension cords. Are they behind the desk and out of the walkways? Extension cords are allowed in salons, but OSHA recommends them only for temporary use. Fire marshals also take note of extension cords when they inspect salons. They also check your outlets for over-used “octopus” outlets. They make sure there is nothing too close to your furnace or hot water tank. And they confirm that your exits are not locked — or blocked.

Finally, look at your nail stations. This area has the highest chance of revealing your salon’s safety problems, and the technician may not even recognize them.

It is essential that all products used in nail services be properly stored and disposed of. In most cases, simply following manufacturers’ guidelines will be adequate.

These guidelines are found in MSDS, and according to OSHA, “You can rely on the information received from your suppliers. You have no independent duty to analyze the chemical or evaluate the hazards of it.”

So what are the guidelines?

To begin with, if any product has been taken out of its original packaging and placed in a different container (for example, a pump dispenser), the new container must be labeled. The product name must be on the outside of the container, and the product’s hazard must be listed. For example, if the product is acrylic liquid, the new container must display the name of the product, and the word flammable — or the placard meaning flammable, which is a diamond with a picture of flames. The remainder of the product must be stored in a dry, cool, well-ventilated area, out of direct sunlight, and away from a heat source.

The secondary container, the one on the desk being used every day, needs to be covered when it isn’t in use. This could be accomplished in a couple of different ways: Keep the product on the desk, but place a non-combustible container over it each time you are done applying liquid, or remove it from your desk and place it in a container away from the work area.

Nail polish, glue, polish remover, and primer must be tightly capped. Spilled polish and dried glue help teach this lesson quickly. Alecia Spina from Volpe Nails and Hair in Johnson City, N.Y. is more cautious since a loosely capped primer bottle spilled into her lap. The primer soaked into her jeans and by the end of the day it had caused a chemical burn on her leg.

Warnings such as no smoking or no candles may seem obvious, but other heat sources may not be as apparent. A microwave, for example, should never be used to warm up acetone.

The oils used during a manicure, pedicure, or massage are flammable, so make sure your laundry soap breaks up the oil during the wash cycle, and always set the dryer on low when laundering towels, table mats, and your work clothes. Otherwise, the heat from the dryer could be a fire hazard, as Renee Borowy of VIP Salon and Spa in Riverview, Mich., found out when the sheets she was folding started smoking. After contacting the fire department, Borowy was told the temperature on the dryer was too high and it could have set the sheets on fire.

Between OSHA standards, state regulations, local fire inspectors, and MSDS, all salons should be hazard-free and accident-proof, right? In a perfect world, yes, but once you’ve done all you can to prevent the problems, here are a few suggestions on how to handle them if they come up.

Have Insurance, Just in Case

Have good insurance. Know the right questions to ask your insurance agent before you have an emergency. Are you covered for interrupted service? Is your electrical equipment covered in a power surge? In addition to knowing the right questions to ask, owners need to know what sort of coverage they are responsible for, and what booth renters are responsible for.

Renters are usually required to have personal liability insurance. While they are not required to have a separate property liability policy, the added assurance of being protected is certainly worth the price of a policy.

If you are unsure your salon meets safety standards, you may want to take advantage of a free service offered to small businesses. A consultant will come to your salon and make suggestions on how to meet OSHA’s standards. (Information on this service is found at OSHA.gov by clicking on the word Consultation in the right column.) Many states have stricter standards than OSHA (see Stricter Standards below). If you do business in one of these states, access the Department of State or state health services online for a complete list of regulations. Once you know the regulations, let your staff know the requirements and file them with your MSDS for easy review.

When static electricity sparked the fire in Milford’s salon, it could have caused extensive damage. Quick thinking prevented the fire from getting out of control, but knowledge of chemical fires and how to extinguish them could have saved Milford from losing time and money. The fire was small enough that it could have been extinguished with something as simple as baking soda, which would have made clean-up easier. Nonetheless, Milford handled the situation quickly and effectively, and was able to limit the damage to her salon.

Additionally, Milford’s customer had recently watched a documentary on synthetic fabrics, so she knew to keep her hands away from her clothing. By pressing her hands firmly against the wall, she was able to extinguish the oxygen supply and starve the fire.

By learning safety standards, complying with industry regulations, and choosing quality insurance coverage, you can protect your salon before, during, and after an accident.

Michelle Pratt is a freelance writer and former nail tech based in Johnson City, N.Y.

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