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Governing body 

Despite safety concerns within the industry, tattoo and piercing artists in Halifax continue to work without regulation. Sean Flinn reports.

In March, a teenaged girl in St. John’s, Newfoundland, died from toxic shock due to, the coroner concluded, a nipple piercing.

Following the tragedy, officials in Nova Scotia commented publicly on the need to bring in regulations, but Nova Scotia is still without formal rules governing the practises.

“There been discussions,” assures Gord Mowat, a consultant with the province’s Department of Health and Health Protection and chair of the Environmental Health Advisory Committee. “We have been talking about regulating.”

The committee meets monthly. Right now, it’s researching other jurisdictions to see what they havae in place. Mowat and his colleagues have discovered a patchwork of approaches across the country. The level of government that acted first wrote the rules.

“The one that has the most definitive regulations is the city of Winnipeg,” Mowat says.

Last year, Winnipeg passed a comprehensive “body modification” bylaw and devised regulations covering everything from licensing requirements, to structure and sanitation of premises, tools and equipment, to inspections. Infractions lead to fines or closures.

Closer to home, the New Brunswick government includes health and safety awareness related to tattooing and piercing in schools, Mowat says. Students learn about the issues in disease prevention lessons.

Before they write up specific regulations, Mowat and his colleagues will “identify key players—big and small—from all over the province.” He adds: “We will consult industry itself before moving forward.”

Some HRM tattoo and piercing practitioners would happily oblige. In fact, they’ve called for regulations themselves.

Jason Sutter, a 16-year tattooing veteran and owner of Permanent Ink Custom Studio Tattoo and Piercing, wants clear, enforceable rules to protect him as an owner and further legitimize his profession.

“There too many people out there who think that they can do this. And there are a lot of people out there who can do it, but aren’t given the chance. So there’re two sides to that coin,” he says.

Amber Thorpe, who recently moved here from Calgary to open Adept Tattoo and Body Piercing on Quinpool, agrees. “It’s about advancement in the industry, keeping it clean and safe for everybody.”

Both Sutter and Thorpe regularly test for contaminants in a multi-step sterilization process they run on their sites.

Sutter gives a snapshot of part of the proper process for sterilization. “For surgical tools that are reused—the tips, tubes and grips for tattoo machines, and for forceps and other tools for piercing—they all go through an ultrasonic cleaner, and then they’re taken through a Wayne Dry Heat, which I have upstairs, and burned at twice the time and twice the temperature recommended by the manufacturer.” If a tool is made of plastic, it goes into a stainless steel autoclave, which disinfects with steam at high pressure.

Sutter also requests unannounced “spot tests” by a public health professional he knows. This person checks everything from sterilization to tripping hazards.

Thorpe closely monitors her sterilization machines. She also works only on glass surfaces. “There should be no wood or plastic or other porous surfaces.”

Sutter also wants to see mandatory certification in studios. At Permanent Ink, certification includes First Aid and CPR as well as WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) and MDSs, or “material data safety sheets,” guidelines that govern storage of chemicals, for example.

A 13-year veteran artist and staff member at Permanent Ink, Karen McClarty strongly supports regulations. “There should be regulations about everything—how far wash stations are from a tattooing area, spore tests in autoclaves, keeping our up to date.”

For McClarty, health and safety steps are “second nature,” a nature that’s reinforced by working in an environment where health and safety aren’t second-guessed.

“ probably will make some people…more at ease about doing something they’ve always wanted to do.

“Every client will have their own studio they prefer, or their own artist they prefer, and that should be the only thing that’s making move around, not cleanliness."


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