Blumenthal, Schumer Push Feds to Immediately Begin NY & CT Nail Salon Inspections; Ask OSHA to Consider Emergency Update to Toxic Exposure Limits to Ensure Health of Workers; OSHA is Agency With Resources & Experience to Best Protect Nail Salon Workers, But Must Step Up Its Game

Following NYT Report Of Brutal Nail Salon Worker Conditions, Senators Detail New Push For OSHA to Strengthen & Enforce Chemical Exposure Limits & Launch Immediate Inspection Crackdown

 NY & CT Home To Thousands Of Nail Salons; Senators Send Detailed & Specific Demand that OSHA Do What it Was Meant to Do: Protect At-Risk Workers

Blumenthal, Schumer: OSHA Must Be the Cop on the Beat In Nail Salon Industry, Protect Workers 

(Washington, DC) ­- Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) at the Department of Labor to demand a swift investigation into dangerous nail salon working conditions and to help educate workers who might feel victimized within the industry. The Senators also asked OSHA to conduct an emergency update to chemical exposure limits, efforts that would move much faster than a standard exposure limit review. The Senators’ push follows a report by The New York Times exposing the extreme danger nail salon chemicals pose to the health of workers. In a letter to OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels, the Senators requested that OSHA take immediate action and aggressively enforce chemical exposure limits in nail salons, as well as update outdated and unacceptable safety requirements to ensure that the health of current and future salon workers is adequately protected.

"There are thousands upon thousands of nail salons across the country and employment for nail salon workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012 to 2022 ­ faster than the average for all occupations. As this nail salon industry continues to grow, it is critical that OSHA take the action steps necessary to prevent further harm to the tens of thousands of workers in this industry."

"Troublingly, OSHA's federal standards are widely recognized by the industrial hygiene community as insufficiently protective of health. Most of the permissible exposure limits (PELs) were determined in the 1970s using outdated and possibly flawed science and studies, and have never been updated," they wrote. "This means that nail salons can meet legal requirements without actually providing a safe working environment for their workers."

"Your agency has an immediate and urgent duty to protect workers at nails salons by imposing strong remedial measures where existing and ongoing conditions endanger health and safety. Such conditions are intolerable, morally and legally, but effective enforcement can stop them. OSHA must issue stronger legal standards that protect the health of nail salon workers. Thus, I urge you to immediately update the PELs for chemicals commonly found in nail salons, and to engage in a coordinated investigation of worker health conditions in this industry."

The senators recognized the potential for Congressional action to help fix this serious problem and offered assistance with updating PELs if necessary. They also requested to be kept aware of OSHA's plan to address the urgent problem and to be updated within three weeks.

Full text of the letter can be viewed here and below:


Dear Assistant Secretary Michaels:

We write in light of the recent investigation by the New York Times regarding nail salon workers, which details unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and exposure to toxic chemicals that threaten not only the health of the workers, but also the developing fetus in pregnant workers. The Times report reflects highly problematic practices in both Connecticut and New York, and sheds light on the need for stronger federal oversight. Workers interviewed reported that chronic coughs, respiratory ailments, skin disorders, recurrent miscarriages, and other harms to reproductive health are common among workers in the nail salon industry. As the federal agency charged with assuring safe and healthful working conditions for all men and women, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a duty to also ensure nail salon workers are properly protected, and that chemical exposure limits are truly protective of workers¹ health and enforced aggressively.

As you know, nail salons are legally required to comply with OSHA standards regarding chemical, ergonomic, and biological hazards, including specific permissible exposure limits (PELs) for the toxic trio of chemicals commonly found in nail polish ­ formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. Troublingly, OSHA¹s federal standards are widely recognized by the industrial hygiene community as insufficiently protective of health. Most of the PELs have not been updated, some were determined in the 1970s using outdated and possibly flawed science and studies and have never been updated.

This means that nail salons can meet legal requirements without actually providing a safe working environment for their workers. Other entities, such as California¹s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the American Conference of Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), have dramatically stronger recommended guidelines for exposure to certain chemicals. For example, whereas the OSHA PEL for toluene is 200 ppm over an eight-hour day, ACGIH¹s recommended limit is 20 ppm and Cal/OSHA¹s is 10 ppm; this represents a ten times order of magnitude difference. However, these alternative recommendations are not legally enforceable nationwide.

Your agency has an immediate and urgent duty to protect workers at nails salons by imposing strong remedial measures where existing and ongoing conditions endanger health and safety. Such conditions are intolerable, morally and legally, but effective enforcement can stop them. OSHA must issue stronger legal standards that protect the health of nail salon workers. Thus, we urge you to immediately update the PELs for chemicals commonly found in nail salons, and to engage in a coordinated investigation of worker health conditions in this industry. Additionally, we respectfully request you respond within 14 business days with answers to the following questions:

  1. What additional authority, if any, do you need from Congress to conduct an expedited update of the PELs  for chemicals found in nail salon products so that they are truly protective of the health of workers, including pregnant workers?  
  2. Recognizing that current PELs are inadequate to protect health, what recommendations can OSHA issue now so that nail salons can take necessary action to protect worker health?
  3. What services and remedies can OSHA provide to nail salon workers who have suffered from harmful exposure to chemicals?
  4. Please detail an inspection plan for enforcing existing and future standards in nail salons nationwide.

There are thousands upon thousands of nail salons across the country and employment for nail salon workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012 to 2022 ­ faster than the average for all occupations. As this nail salon industry continues to grow, it is critical that OSHA take the action steps necessary to prevent further harm to the tens of thousands of workers in this industry. We look forward to working closely with you to make sure that OSHA has the tools and authority necessary to make sure nail salon workers have a safe workplace and receive the protections they deserve.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer

Press Contact

Josh Zembik (Blumenthal) ­ 202-224-6452
Angelo Roefaro (Schumer) ­ 202-380-5990