Abu Dhabi: Grooming oneself is an integral part of the culture in the UAE, with residents of all ages and backgrounds visiting salons and beauty centres nearly four times a month on average. Yet, thousands of parlour attendants that provide beauty services are not trained in basic hygiene and safety measures, according to a senior official.
This however, is all set to change when the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City mandates a hygiene certification programme for workers in the capital's grooming sector within the next few months.
As part of this mandatory training, attendants across more than 1,000 facilities in Abu Dhabi city will be educated on sterilising equipment, the safe use of equipment, the importance of keeping premises clean and the penalties applicable for violations, said Khalifa Mohammad Al Rumaithi, director of public health at the municipality.
In an interview with Gulf News, the official revealed details of the training programme, and also shed light on other public health initiatives being undertaken this year.
Gulf News: What is the relevance of this hygiene training for parlour and salon workers, and when will it be introduced?
Khalifa Mohammad Al Rumaithi: People in the UAE, both men and women, visit beauty centres and salons frequently to avail of a variety of grooming services. While workers at these facilities are skilled at their jobs, many have not been trained to provide services in a safe and hygienic manner.
So as part of this initiative, we will mandate a two to three-day hygiene and safety training for more than 50,000 parlour and salon workers, as well as municipal public health inspectors.
The programme will be introduced by June this year, and it will be incumbent upon hairdressers, salons, beauty centres and parlours to train all their workers by mid-2013.
Could you explain some of the elements which will be covered in the training programme?
One of the areas of focus will be the need for parlours to use safe products and cosmetics, and stay away from hazardous ones like black henna.
Facilities will also be encouraged to develop a system that keeps track of product expiry dates so that items are discarded after expiry, especially as we find that the use of expired items, or items that are left uncovered or stored improperly, is still one of the biggest problems. Last year, municipal inspectors confiscated and destroyed more than 60 tonnes of products because of such violations, and we want to curb this.
Finally, we will also educate workers in the sector about the penalties they might face as a result of any violations.
How often do municipal inspectors inspect beauty centres in the city?
Inspectors conduct both scheduled and surprise visits on facilities, whether they are beauty centres or commercial outlets. In addition, we also engage members of the public to help with the inspections.
For example, customers ask for banned products such as black henna, and if the beauty centre offers it, the customer alerts us. We then step in and either warn the facility or impose penalties.
Since November 2011, the municipality has been distributing leaflets on public hygiene that highlight the fines applicable for offences like spitting on the street and littering. How effective has this campaign been so far?
This campaign is an attempt to educate residents on public health, especially as inspectors discovered that people often littered because they were unaware of the regulations, such as a Dh500 fine for throwing chewing gum in a public space.
We started with distributing the leaflets in the Industrial City Abu Dhabi, which houses more than 55,000 workers.
We then proceeded to hand out the leaflets to new migrants at Abu Dhabi International Airport, and also placed them in taxis and buses to reach out to public transport users. We also sent out emails to all licensed companies in the emirate so that they could be shared with employees.
The results have been very positive so far. In December 2011, inspectors issued 676 fines for such offences. By the end of January, the number of fines had dropped to 276 and we expect it to fall further as we reach out to more people.
How are municipal inspectors ensuring that residential buildings are kept clean?
Inspectors have already conducted random checks on buildings. A Dh1,000 fine is immediately issued to owners or management firms of a buildings with cluttered and unclean stairwells and entrances.
Regular checks are also conducted to ensure that no more than three people share a room.
From March onwards, we will also visit residents in apartments to warn them not to hang clothes out on the balcony for public view or put up satellite dishes. Such practices spoil the public view and image of the city, and there have been reported instances of dish antennas falling and damaging cars below. Second-time offenders will receive fines of Dh500.
Black henna, or henna that contains petroleum components or traces of hair dyes, is banned because it is unsafe to use, often causing allergies and even leading to first-degree burns, as reported in a case last month.
In addition, the use of lasers for hair removal or any other purpose is also prohibited. Laser techniques are only permitted in authorised clinics and medical facilities as their improper application often leads to burns, which is why we confiscate any laser equipment we find at parlours and salons.
Finally, tattooing is also not allowed.
Last year, parlours were warned about the health hazards of fish pedicures, where fish were used to remove dead skin off people's feet.
On being asked whether parlours were still offering these services, Khalifa Mohammad Al Rumaithi said: "We were happy to note that facilities have stopped offering fish pedicures, which are unsanitary and can lead to severe infections. While some centres have removed the fish tanks altogether, others have converted them into purely decorative elements."
Customers, are of course, encouraged to report any centres that are still found to be offering this harmful technique, he added.