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III. Ensure greater access to health care and occupational medicine.

Support comprehensive reform of the health care system, emphasizing the importance of occupational medicine and disease surveillance.

Many nail salon workers and owners experience adverse health effects due to the chemical products they use at work. Yet there has been little tracking or monitoring of those health effects. Although the Occupational Health Surveillance and Exposure Program (OHSEP) of the Occupational Health Branch of the DPH conducted a field investigation of asthma at a beauty salon which offered manicures in 2002, little if any monitoring or investigation of nail salons has been conducted since then.

In addition to exposure to hazardous chemicals, nail salon workers earn low wages and are typically not offered health care coverage through their employers. In California, workers at businesses with 24 or fewer employees constitute 38% of the uninsured in California.50 In a study of Vietnamese nail salons workers in Alameda County, California, 16% of participants had no health coverage. Of the insured, only 4 out of 201 had work-based coverage.51 A universal health care system (such as single payer) would be an important step toward improving the lives of the mostly female nail salon community.

A universal health care system in California should include an emphasis on occupational health and safety. Occupational medicine clinics and staff could provide information and guidance on health problems endemic to nail salons, such as asthma and dermatitis from chemical exposures, ergonomic injuries from sitting in awkward positions for long

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periods, and concerns about continuing to work during pregnancy. Occupational health experts could conduct workshops on accident and illness prevention, health education and promotion, the establishment and implementation of health and safety standards, monitoring the work environment and occupational illnesses and diseases, and reduction of recognized hazards.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • The state should expand its program on surveillance of occupational injuries and intervention. In particular, OHSEP should monitor the adverse effects of repeated high chemical exposures to nail salon technicians over a long period of time. Based on the results, the Occupational Health Branch of the DPH should issue specific recommendations for protecting technicians’ health.

  • Support a universal health care system (such as single-payer) that addresses affordability and accessibility, provides for culturally and linguistically appropriate services, is not affected by employment status or a pre-existing condition, and emphasizes occupational medicine.

OVEREXPOSED & UNDERINFORMED

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