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Nail workers left to bite their nails amid highly unhealthy working environment

New law is a relief, but not a panacea: Campaigners

Staff Writer, NEW YORK: When a customer drops into a typical Nepalese beauty parlor in Kathmandu, Dharan, Pokhara or any part of Nepal, she is supposed to get all the services meant to enhance her beauty. The services may range from bridal make up to regular facials, haircut, nail polish, threading and the foot works, among others.

nails-pic-5However, in the United States, a customer cannot find all the services in one single beauty parlor. She has to visit different beauty parlors for different purposes. For instance, if she wants foot work services, she visits a foot work beauty parlor. And if she wants a haircut, she will visit a beauty parlor that only provides services related to haircut and hairstyle.

In New York City, beauty parlor has become a good source of earning for females. Though winter is a bit off-season, this profession has provided livelihood to many women.

Unsafe working environment
Despite a good earning, women working in beauty parlors often complain that they have to work in a highly unsafe and unclean environment from their health perspective. In particular, many of the nail salons do not have a proper ventilation system. As a consequence, the air inside a nail salon becomes extremely polluted with the constant smell of various chemicals used for nail works. Sing long, they had been organizing themselves to wage a struggle for their rights.

nails-pic-7Amid this situation on October 3, 2016, the New York state government has enforced a law that aims at addressing the demands of the beauty parlor workers. This law is particularly helpful for workers based in nail salons. As per the new provision, nail salons set up after this date, have to install a mechanical ventilation system. Those salons which are already in existence have to accomplish this task within the next five years.

Following the announcement of October 3, nail and other beauty parlor workers gathered at Diversity Plaza of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York and rejoiced the moment with their co-workers and activists. They took out a victory rally as they exchanged their grief, happiness and problems with each other. New York Healthy Nail Salon Coalitions, Adhikaar and other non-profits encouraged the nail workers to stand for their rights.

As the workers would put it, the new law is not a complete solution but at least provides some relief to them.
“If you polish nail of a single customer, that’s not a big deal. But if you do the same work for 10 hours in a suffocating room, it definitely takes a toll on your body. We do not have health insurance either. Just because the ventilation is expensive, you cannot play with our health,” said a nail worker during the program. The salon owners have to make available proper face mask and hand gloves for the workers to prevent hazardous chemical smell and dust from entering their bodies, the nail worker further said.

Yet another nail worker stressed that just keeping the window open, or putting the fan and air conditioner on may be helpful but do not provide an effective solution. “The effective ventilation means that the polluted air can be ousted properly and the fresh air outside can be breezed in.”
Rights activists on the occasion stressed that initiatives should be taken from all sides to exert pressure on nail salon owners to implement the new law to the fullest.

nails-pic-9Impact of chemicals

The chemicals used for nail works have very serious impact on human health both immediately and in the long run, according to a report prepared by the New York State’s Department of Health. As per the report, major chemicals and their effect have been summarized here below:

Formaldehyde: It leads to breathing problem, coughing, allergy and eye itching. In the long run, it leads to obstruction in respiratory system and skin diseases along with throat and skin cancer.

Dibutyl phthalate: Short term effect is itching of eye, skin, nose and throat, problem in respiration and vomiting. Long term effect is reproduction related diseases and damage to kidney and liver.

Methyl methacrylate: Besides itching and allergy, short term effect is the lack of concentration and absence of sensitivity to odor or smell. Long term effect is lack of sensitivity of skin (not being able to feel even the pinching) and respiratory complications.

Acetone: This chemical is used to remove nail polish. Its short term effect is headache, dizziness, laziness, pre-symptoms of vomiting, breathing problem and itching of eye and nose. Long term effect is the diseases of kidney, liver, blood and nervous system.

Ortho-phenylphenol: This chemical is used for sanitation purpose of the salon. Its short term effect is itching of skin and eyes, problem in respiratory track and stomach pain. Likewise, its long term effect is kidney related disease and even cancer. 

(With New York Base NGO Adhikaar Information & Input)

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