Tattoo shops

Tattoo artists and piercers are exposed to a number health and safety risks including contamination from needles or dirty equipment.

What are the risks?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), every business has a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, and that others are not put at risk by the work of the business (for example, customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public).

First, you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

The following are examples of only some of the health and safety risks for people in the hospitality sector. We also provide general guidance on how to manage your work health and safety risks.

Tattooists need to observe very high standards of hygiene to reduce the risk of blood borne or other infections.

How are workers and others harmed?

  • Cross-contamination happens when bacteria and viruses spread from one surface to another. For example, a tattoo artist might place their tools on a counter that isn't disinfected.
  • Failing to sterilise instruments before the next procedure leaves customers vulnerable to cross-contamination.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Ensure all surfaces are disinfected regularly.
  • Provide disposable “single use” supplies whenever possible.
  • Ensure reusable tools are cleaned and equipment sterilising them.
  • Ensure sterilisation machines are regularly tested and serviced.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Display clearly written signs about your business’ hygiene procedures such as hand washing, sterilisation, etc and ensure your workers are familiar with good hygiene practices.
  • Change gloves regularly.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Blood borne infections, such as tetanus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, can be spread by contaminated equipment, so it should always be sterilised.

How are workers and others harmed?

While a tattoo needle doesn’t go under a tattoo artist’s skin, they face the same risks as their clients.

Tattooists and their clients can be exposed to possible sources of contamination through accidentally sticking themselves with a used needle.

Exposure to blood-borne pathogens is one of the biggest risks that tattoo artists face. Hepatitis B is a virus that can survive for a week or longer in dried blood. Tattoo artists may contract the disease by sticking themselves with unclean needles, or from accidental exposure to the blood of a person who has Hepatitis B. A person may not know they have been infected, because symptoms don't show up for several months.

Hepatitis B can lead to lifelong infections, as well as liver cancer, liver failure and death.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Use disposable piercing needles, tattoo needles and razors and discard them into a clearly labelled/marked sharps disposal container.
  • Ensure an exposure control plan is available.
  • Keep sharps containers in a safe place and within easy reach.
  • Change the sharps container when it is full.
  • Try to reduce or avoid direct contact with the sharps container.
  • Keep a sharps incident log.
  • Ensure workers are trained in minimising the risk of needle stick injuries.
  • Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Tattoo artists often work using the same fixed hand and arm posture for long periods of time, resulting in arm, shoulder, neck and back pain.

How are workers and others harmed?

Keeping a fixed hand and arm posture for long periods of time during regular tattoo machine operation, can contribute to musculoskeletal discomfort, particularly for the neck, back, and arms.

Poorly designed equipment can also contribute to people getting harmed, by example the incorrect height of work surfaces, inadequate equipment spacing or incorrect chair height.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Provide adjustable furniture and equipment – one size does not fit all when it comes to chairs and work surfaces.
  • Use a chair with a reverse support (a chest rest instead of a back rest). This allows workers to still bend over and have some support. Ensure workers take regular breaks that involve walking around and/or stretching.
  • Make sure workers change posture regularly and alternate positions. For example, if a worker needs to work at an awkward angle for one section of the tattoo but not for another, switch between the two sections.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Tattoo dyes can cause allergic skin reactions, such as an itchy rash at the tattoo site.

How are workers and others harmed?

  • People can suffer inflammatory reactions to the pigments and dyes used in tattooing.
  • These reactions are in direct response to the piercing of the skin with needles impregnated with pigment dyes prepared from metal salts, and can range from a mild to an acute reaction.
  • There may be transient redness and swelling of the area that disappears within 2–3 weeks. It is an expected side effect of the tattooing process.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Patch test clients before starting any tattoo work.
  • Buy dyes containing the least harmful chemicals available to you.
  • Store dyes in line with the requirements of the safety data sheet (SDS)
  • Develop emergency procedures and train your workers in them, so that if someone does have an allergic reaction to a dye, your workers know what to do.
  • Provide personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.

Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They could suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.

You need to select the most effective controls that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.