Brushing up on safety during the pandemic

Hear one hair salon owner’s experience of reopening their business with new COVID-19 safety protocols in place. 

Photo of a hair stylist in a hair salon, wearing a mask and face shield, drying a customer's hair who is also wearing a mask.

Photo credit: iStock.com/dragana991

Recently, I spoke with Barb Whiteman, owner of Colourbox Hairdressing, about new safety protocols for workers and customers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colourbox, which has been in its current Vancouver location for nearly 30 years, reopened in May after a two-month industry shutdown ordered by B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer.

Barb and her team created their COVID-19 Safety Plan, as required for all employers in B.C. It outlines the policies, guidelines, and procedures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Putting the hierarchy of controls to work

The highest level of protection — on what’s known as the hierarchy of controls — is eliminating the hazard. In a hair salon, this means limiting the number of people in the workplace. This helps stylists ensure they are at least 2 metres (6 feet) from co-workers, customers, and members of the public. At Colourbox, there are now only four stylist chairs set up, down from seven in the past.

Graphic of the hierarchy of controls

The hierarchy of controls

The second-highest level of protection includes engineering controls. At Colourbox, this includes plexiglass barriers that surround the reception desk. There is also a barrier in place between the shampoo basins — a secured, clear shower curtain runs as high as the standing stylist and below the sitting clients, so that two patrons can get their hair washed at once. The Beauty Council of Western Canada has recommended that patrons and workers not talk during the hair wash, to further prevent the transmission of droplets produced when talking.

Plus, the waiting room is no longer available at Colourbox. Says Barb: “Customers wait outside until they’re welcomed in by the stylist. Everyone has been pretty respectful and I’m grateful that people want to come in.”

A refresher on expert hygiene

The next level on the hierarchy are administrative controls, which includes cleaning protocols.

Barb recently completed the BeautySafe hygiene certification for Canadian beauty professionals. After a few decades in the business, this was a good chance to “re-learn the basics” of expert hygiene — which is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Says Barb: “Everything has to be cleaned right after we use it, which is basic training in beauty school.”

When Colourbox first reopened, staff adjusted appointment scheduling to ensure adequate time for cleaning. But recently, Barb hired two junior stylists to focus on cleaning.

By necessity, cutting hair requires close contact between stylist and client. That’s why everyone is required to wear a mask inside the salon. Says Barb: “It’s really not always easy wearing a mask all day, but we have to do it so we are all safe.”

Masks and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) offer a fourth level of protection, which should be considered after eliminating the hazard as much as possible and implementing engineering and administrative controls. Often all four types of controls work best in combination.

For more information on safety for hair stylists and other personal service providers see Is your COVID Safety Plan Safe? Also see WorkSafeBC’s Personal services: Protocols for returning to operation.

How about you? Have you gone for a hair cut yet? Do let me know in the comments below.

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