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2007–2010 Projects

Boston Public Health Commission, Boston, Massachusetts

Project Description

The Boston Public Health Commission’s Safe Nail Salons project goal is to protect workers and the public from exposure to exposure to hazardous chemicals and air pollution in nail salons. Nail salons workers are exposed to an array of potentially hazardous compounds during nearly every service they provide.

The Safe Nail Salon project is a partnership of community, public health, and enforcement agencies working together to improve the environment, as outlined in the following diagram:
The Safe Nail Salon project is a partnership of community, public health, and enforcement agencies working together to improve the environment

Program activities include

  • Providing work site training for nail salon owners and technicians about proper personal protection and environmental health
  • Helping businesses switch to less-hazardous chemicals, install pollution prevention technology, and improve indoor air quality
  • Helping businesses come into compliance with health and safety regulations
  • Connecting shop owners with technical assistance, and
  • Connecting nail technicians, customers, and the community with health resources.


Boston Safe Nail Salon partner accomplishments in year 1 include

  • Hiring a full time public health advocate to conduct outreach at the Boston nail salons
  • Holding one focus group with 26 participants
  • Holding one health fair with 14 nail techs trained
  • Conducting 9 trainings
  • Training 45 workers
  • Conducting 119 initial visits to nail salons
  • Conducting 97 follow up visits to nail salons
  • Sending out one mailing to salons
  • Developing one power point training
  • Collecting common MSDS sheets for chemicals in salons
  • Contacting manufacturers of safer alternatives
  • Conducting nail salon occupational health training with health centers
  • Developing a decorative cover of N-95 mask to encourage use


Originally, it was believed that the Vietnamese nail technicians were among the underinsured. On visiting the shops and interviewing workers, staff are finding that most people have health insurance. Although many workers bring up health concerns with outreach workers, nail technicians are unlikely to see their primary care physicians about these issues.

Although the project works with community health centers and the Mayor’s Health Line to get people access to health care, the project has recently focused more attention on methods to encourage technicians to visit their physicians more regularly. Project partner MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health) has been conducting trainings with primary care providers to help them better recognize signs of occupational illnesses in their nail technician patients.

The cost of renovations and HVAC systems can be a burden on the salon and poor indoor air quality and lack of ventilation continues to be a problem. In the absence of many alternative chemicals, the project discusses proper storage of chemicals and waste to reduce emissions into the salon environment and the importance of improving ventilation. The project continues to query manufacturers to collect Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) in search of safer alternatives that might improve indoor air quality and improve the salon environment.

What Is Next

The Safe Nail Salon Project continues to modify the project design and activities based on continual feedback from participating nail technicians and community organization partners.

The project has tailored in-salon training times to those most convenient for participating technicians—during mornings at the beginning of the week, rather than the end of the week when business tends to pick up. Trainings sometimes need to be done in shifts to accommodate technicians that may need to take care of walk-in clients, so that the training process does not take away from participant income (many are paid by the job) by interfering with the work day.

Nail technicians sometimes wear surgical masks for the purpose of creating an image of good hygiene for the benefit of their clients. These masks do not protect the workers from the chemicals. Workers find the proper carbon-impregnated N-95 masks to be unattractive and industrial looking. To help address this issue, project partner Viet-AID hired a seamstress to create a decorative cover that fastens to the N-95 with Velcro. The Safe Nail Salon Project hopes that this will encourage more frequent use of N-95 masks and a better work environment for nail technicians.

Links and Products

For information on the Safe Nail Salon Project, please contact Tiffany Skogstrom or Nancie Nguyen, Boston Public Health Commission, 617-534-5966.

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