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In the Field: Nail Salon Worker Health & Safety with HOPE Clinic, Houston

MCNThis week, I helped facilitate an exciting training at HOPE Clinic aimed at improving the health and safety of women who work in nail salons in and around Houston, Texas.  I was joined by Amy Liebman, MCN’s Director of Environmental and Occupational Health and Kerry Brennan, Environmental and Occupational Health Program Manager. We used a train-the-trainer model to provide HOPE Clinic’s outreach team with knowledge and tools to go into the community and train nail salon workers and owners about health and safety in the workplace.

Nail salon workers encounter regular occupational hazards that can seriously impact their health. In addition to acute exposures that can lead to headaches and dizziness, nail salon workers are also at risk for chronic conditions associated with long-term exposure to low doses of toxic chemicals. Chemicals in nail polish and other salon supplies have been linked to many serious health conditions, such as cancer, reproductive health effects, and asthma. Many salons are poorly ventilated and workers rarely have access to personal protective equipment, further exacerbating the problem. In addition, ergonomic issues frequently plague nail salon workers. Staff at HOPE Clinic reported high rates of neck pain among nail salon worker patients.

In Houston, nail salon workers are predominantly female, and many are immigrants from Vietnam. HOPE Clinic has deep roots in the immigrant community in Houston and the staff looks forward to helping nail salon workers with the health and safety issues they encounter at their jobs. HOPE outreach staff are multilingual and are able to train workers in their native language to ensure comprehension.  In addition to learning about the basics of chemical safety, participants enjoyed actively learning about best practices to improve ergonomic conditions in a nail salon setting. MCN staff learned so much as well.  It was exciting to learn about the culture, language and outreach strategies for the target population from the expert staff at HOPE Clinic.

In Texas, roughly 1,640 people work in nail salons, and Houston is home to the second largest population of nail salon workers in the state. For this project, MCN is building on its 30-plus years of train-the-trainer work in environmental and occupational health as well as integrating the lessons learned and the excellent educational materials from the very successful California Health Nail Salon Collaborative.

These newly trained outreach workers plan to reach 165 nail salon workers this year. HOPE outreach staff plan to use a variety of strategies to reach their goals, including the recruitment of trainees both through direct outreach to nail salons and through partnerships with salon owners, nail salon licensing schools, salons, places of worship, and more. 

MCN’s next step in this project is to visit Hospital Castañer General in Puerto Rico in March, where we will train outreach staff about health and safety for farmworkers. This project, funded by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will also launch three national webinars for community health workers covering workers’ rights, heat stress, and chemical safety, and one webinar for clinicians which will cover work-related asthma. Make sure you’re signed up for MCN’s mailing list to receive notifications of these webinars and other future trainings. 

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