Shopworkers’ union Usdaw is calling on the government and EU to take the Health & Safety risks to hairdressers seriously and give them “proper protection”.

Working in a hair salon or barber’s shop is not an obviously dangerous occupation. Yet at some point up to 70 per cent of hairdressers suffer from work-related skin damage such as dermatitis. Hairdressing can also cause musculoskeletal diseases and asthma.

But most cases are preventable and Usdaw, which represents 140,000 hairdressers, is calling for greater Health & Safety protection.

Paddy Lillis the union’s deputy general secretary, says the government needs to properly protect hairdressers. He believes it’s time they had a “new deal” because their safety is all too often overlooked in a mistaken belief they work in low-risk environments.

Hidden risks

Research shows hairdressers are at risk from seemingly safe activities such as washing or cutting hair and using hairspray.

Repeatedly washing hands can cause dermatitis. Symptoms include painful cracked skin and bleeding.

Breathing in hairspray and other chemicals has been linked to asthma. Using scissors day in day out can lead to arthritis and tendonitis in the hands.

Many workers suffer major back problems from standing all day. And a link between hairdressing and bladder cancer has been blamed on hair dye.

Cutting criticism

Most health issues can be resolved by wearing appropriate gloves and taking regular breaks. However, it is claimed the difference is often enforcement. While individuals are themselves responsible, unions say they could be subject to more inspections.

Usdaw has criticised the government’s economic austerity drive which it says has seen the Health & Safety Executive cut back on inspections and local authorities slash shop check-ups.

Uni Europa, the union representing some one million European hairdressers, claim matters have been made worse by a block on EU safety rules. It says a Europe-wide agreement on Health & Safety standards for the industry has been blocked by the European Commission under pressure from successive UK governments.

In 2012, Uni Europa was involved in drawing up an agreement for EU Member States to sign up to shared Health & Safety standards for hairdressers.

But according to Oliver Roethig of Uni Europa, since Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the European Commission the agreement has been blocked under UK led pressure.

He stressed that hairdressing was only the tip of the iceberg as “Social legislation by the EU has been completely taken off the agenda by the Juncker Commission. He said the EU must not be big on the smaller things. But we don’t think that hairdressers having to give up work is a small thing”.

It is feared the proposed European standards may never see the light of day in the UK following the Brexit referendum.

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