By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
You'll have to excuse hair salon owners, employees and program underwriters who insure this very special class of business if you find them in a tizzy the next time you run into any one of them.
For what are they to believe? Certainly not the purported "formaldehyde-free" boasts on the labels of some of the hair-straightening products they use, according to a hazard alert issued earlier this month by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA, acting in the wake of several complaints from salon owners and hair stylists, as well as actions taken by regional OSHA offices in Oregon, California and Connecticut, warned that some branded products popular with hair salons are laden with formaldehyde, yet indicate nothing of the sort on the product labels.
Among the brands singled out is GIB LLC's "Brazilian Blowout" hair salon product, which is featured in widely read consumer magazines like Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, InStyle Hair and US Weekly.
Formaldehyde, a colorless and strong-smelling gas, can irritate the eyes and nose and cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and lungs. It has been linked to nose and lung cancer, according to OSHA.
OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels said workers "have a right to know" the risks of the chemicals to which they are exposed in the workplace and how to protect themselves.
"Employers need to know these risks in order to ensure the safety and health of their employees," he said in a statement posted on OSHA's website earlier this year.
OSHA requires manufacturers, importers and distributors of products that contain formaldehyde to include information about its hazards on product labels and in the safety data sheets sent to employers.
IN THE AIR
Investigators tested the air in the salons and found levels greater than OSHA-mandated limits, even though the products used to straighten hair were labeled as formaldehyde-free.
As a result, OSHA has issued violations to an importer and distributer of smoothing products, OSHA said.
The actions come several months after a complaint filed last November by the California attorney general's office against Los Angeles-based GIB. The complaint seeks to have GIB stop its alleged deceptive sales and advertising practices.
The California complaint follows action by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division, which reported in October that it, too, had found high levels of formaldehyde in the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution.
In a November interview published in the Los Angeles Times, GIB LLC/Brazilian Blowout Chief Executive Mike Brady said the product contains only a trace amount of formaldehyde, below federal safety standards.
Brady also said his company is taking legal action against Oregon OSHA, the L.A. Times reported.
Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), which represents hair salons, said it was "imperative" for the industry to help provide the most accurate information regarding hair treatments.
"PBA would like to reiterate the need for manufacturers and distributors of these products to provide stylists and other industry professionals with up-to-date information, training and education about how to safely apply and handle keratin products," the PBA said.
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PBA has also requested that the Cosmetic Ingredient Review "take up a re-examination of the use of formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics."
Chicago-based CNA Financial and New York-based American European Insurance Co. underwrite exposures of the hair salon industry. The coverage is sold through managing general agents.
April 29, 2011
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