Returning to Normal: Risk assessing your salon

Marie-Louise Coster offers advice on prep you can do now to get your beauty or hair business back up and running safely.

 Marie-Louise CosterI'm just going to come straight out and say it…I have quite enjoyed having a bit of time off. I have never had this long off work in my life, not even when I had my daughter and was recovering from the complications of Cesarean!

Of course, I have been worried about the virus (or ‘blooming virus' as my daughter always calls it). I have been worried about the financials and naturally I have been worried about what will follow... yes, we will be rushed off our feet when we re-open for sure, but surely a recession will follow? And then what? 

That aside, I have enjoyed not being beholden to a diary, having to be here, having to be there etc. I have enjoyed learning new skills, refreshing old skills, researching new products and services, attending lots of webinars and generally having time to do all of the things I never get to do. 

I have enjoyed extra time with my daughter before she starts school full time in September and I have enjoyed all of the simple things in life that we overlooked before: going for a walk, growing veggies, sitting in the garden and reading a good book. Wasting money is frustrating, but you can always earn more. Wasting time is a tragedy because you can never earn more, so if one positive has come from this awful situation it has been the value of time. 

During this time, like many of you I am sure, I have been on social media more and read so many things - most of it conflicting - and most of it just speculation. At times this volume of ‘fact' has been really overwhelming, because no one really knows what the ‘new normal' will be. I think if we exercise some common sense there are many things we can do to prepare for our return to work.

The first thing I would do (in fact the first thing I did) is look at your premises with fresh eyes. If you have a salon, a treatment room within a business, a home-based salon, a cabin, whatever your base is, walk into it as a client would and see how it makes you feel. Does it look fresh, inviting, professional etc.; does it give the first impression you want it to, and does it project your brand image? Now you have the time to do it why not redecorate, de-clutter and revamp. 

Now walk around and look at it from a hygiene point of view. The reality is you are going to need to allow time between clients (if you didn't already) to clean and disinfect your treatment room and client waiting area. Time is money so you need to be able to do this as efficiently and effectively as you can, but as quickly as possible. Do you have lots of drapes, faux flowers, upholstered chairs, magazines etc? Do you have carpets? Can you clean all of these things in 10 minutes? If not maybe it is worth removing these items and replacing them with things that are easily cleaned, at least in the short term (although I would remove carpets for the long term, they have no place in a salon) to make life easier for you and to ensure your premises are as clean as can be.  

I realise it is all of these fluffy, pretty things, that make the salon cosy and look lovely, but the reality is this they could harbour germs and you need to stand out from the crowd by being on it with your hygiene.  I have removed all of my upholstered chairs and cushions and I have replaced them with wipe clean chairs; yes, they aren't as pretty but I can clean them in seconds and ensure complete hygiene, and at the moment that far outweighs the fluffy stuff.

beauty salon with blue chairs for pedicure
Consider removing upholstered chairs and cushions and I have replacing them with wipe clean chairs. "They aren't as pretty but can be cleaned in seconds and ensure complete hygiene, and at the moment that far outweighs the fluffy stuff," says Marie-Louise.
Whilst we are on the subject of hygiene let's compile a checklist for you to follow, of course this may be subject to change, and a lot of this should have been done before! But here goes:

* Write a new risk assessment
* Write a new Health and Safety statement
* Write a COVID19 specific policy 

If anyone wants help with these three please drop me an email. Once they are written, send the health and safety statement and COVID-19 policy to all of the clients on your database (if they want to see your risk assessment they can but it isn't a riveting read). 

I know Health and Safety isn't the most exciting subject but some people will still be concerned about going out, even when lockdown is lifted, and I think it is really important to put people at ease and reinforce your commitment to your clients safety.  

I sent mine to my clients and I had such positive feedback. I had a reply from everyone (hundreds!) all saying that they feel really confident in my procedures with one commenting that she is happy she comes to me and is confident I am the cleanest salon in the country! I think it is really important to keep in touch with clients, even more so at this time, but for it to not be all about sales.

Salon hygiene

Give the salon a really deep clean, wash everything, clean everything, move all of the furniture to clean behind it, but also reposition it so as there is an easy route for staff and clients and to ensure people can socially distance. Clean out all of the drawers, clean all of your equipment, empty all wax pots, clean them and refill with fresh wax.

What will you do about ventilation? Can you have some open windows or do you need to invest in a ventilation system?

Run the taps for a good five to ten minutes. This may sound odd, but if you haven't been in the salon for months, the water will have just been sitting in the pipes, and the weather has been quite inclement. These things combined could cause the growth of legionella.

Will clients be made to wash their hands when they come in or will you give them hand sanitiser to use? Either way, do you have enough?

Do you have a hand towel in the toilet? Will you be changing this for disposable paper towels? I think this is a must - avoid air dryers, they will just blow everything around and are not remotely hygienic. 

Towels will already be changed after every client and washed at a high temperature with the addition of a disinfecting laundry cleanser but for extra protection, line your couches and tables with couch roll as well.  

Will you offer refreshments in disposable cups?  

Do you have enough of the right stock?

Do a thorough stock take and work out what you will need for re-opening. Spread your orders out over the coming weeks so as you don't have all of the money going out in one go.

Do you have enough spatulas to ensure no fingers in pots or double dipping in wax pots (which I pray to God you weren't doing before anyway)? Will you be using disposable nail files or will you give clients the file after use? To spray them between clients just won't be enough anymore. Where there is a disposable alternative I would opt for it.  I know it isn't very environmentally friendly, and we were all gearing much more towards environmentally friendly options, but in this situation you need to ensure safety, and disposable items are a great at of stopping cross infection.  

Will you buy more cuticle tools and tweezers so as you can sterilise/disinfect after the client and have a new set, bagged, ready for the next client? I think this is wise but you must seal the tools in a bag once sterilised so as they remain clean. 

What PPE do you need? 

The reality is we don't really know yet, but I think the sensible thing is to be prepared. 

Make sure you have plenty of gloves so as you can wear gloves for all treatments and change them for every client. Gloves are not an alternative to hand washing, you still need to wash your hands before and after you put your gloves on and remove them, but they are an extra protection. 

For many treatments we wear gloves anyway but I will be wearing gloves for all treatments from here on in. Please be aware that if you touch something else, e.g. if you are in the middle of a manicure and go to another room for something or drop something on the floor, you will need to change your gloves. 

Will you wear goggles or a visor? We know that we must not touch our eyes, nose and mouth, would the addition of a visor or goggles help to deter you from doing so? Will you wear plastic aprons?

Will you be wearing masks? Again, I think this is a very sensible option. Ideally you want an N95, this will last around eight hours. These are proving difficult to get, and there are lots of counterfeit ones. Any mask is better than no mask but look for one with a filter that can be washed and reused with the filter easily changed.  

Will you be providing masks for clients or will they need to bring their own? If you are providing them are you going to charge for them? If they arrive without one, and you don't have any, will you refuse to treat them?  

woman wearing N95 face mask
Will you be wearing masks? "Ideally you want an N95, this will last around eight hours," says Marie-Louise.
Will you get caught up in these sneeze shield screen things? The answer from me is no! I am sure manufacturers have made a fortune from people panic buying, but think about this logically, if someone were smoking on the other side of it would it stop the smell of the cigarettes or stop the smoke from wafting your way? No it wouldn't. Therefore, in my opinion it isn't going to stop any germs in the air, if anything it will make things worse as the screen is something else for the germs to stick to and something else for you to clean!

Your treatments

Will you offer all treatments? We don't know yet if there may be restrictions put in to place as to what we can offer, but is there anything you feel you would rather not offer initially to maintain the safety of yourself, your staff and your clients?

Will you put your prices up? A controversial topic I know, but with all the extra outlay on PPE, and the fact you haven't earned anything for months, will you charge more?

What hours will you open, and will you stagger appointments? The sensible thing here is to limit the number of people in the salon at any one time, including staff. We haven't had official guidance yet but I would suggest booking a couple of clients in at a time, ensure you can keep them distanced, and ideally they would leave around a similar time so as you can close the door, clean, and then open for the next ones. 

You will not be able to accept any walk ins, everyone must pre-book. Clients must be discouraged from arriving early for their appointment in order to limit the number of people in the salon at any one time. I would be inclined to close off any waiting areas, remove any tester stands etc just so as nothing can be contaminated and to limit there being any communal areas. 

Will you still take cash or will be card payments and bank transfers? I think, at this moment, to go cashless is the best option.

Do you use any touch screens? Will you allow clients to access them or just input any data yourself?

Will you suspend your cancellation policy? I think this is a must because you need to stress to clients (and staff) that if they are displaying any symptoms, or have been around anyone with symptoms, they need to reschedule their appointment for 14 days later.

Your salon staff

Will you make staff change into their uniform when they arrive and change into their normal clothes before they leave to go home? Of course, all uniforms are washed at 60 degrees daily, but what about what may get caught on them on the commute in, especially if your staff use public transport? 

Will they have shoes that they only wear in the salon? Will you still allow staff to wear nail extensions, or have naturally lashes no nails?  Or will you insist on short, clean, polish free nails like we all used to have way back when?  

Will you have all staff in at the same times, and how are you going to rota everyone? What will you do about holiday entitlement?

Once you have all of your procedures and protocols in place you must schedule a team meeting. This can easily be done via Zoom, FaceTime, etc. just so as you can go through everything and ensure everyone knows what is going on and is fully co-operative.

Considerations for home salons and mobile

Obviously, these considerations mainly apply to high sigh street salons.  If you are home based, in addition to the above, you need to consider the location of your treatment room. Is it in your house? Do people need to access your house and walk through it to get to it? If so, and the restrictions are still in place regarding visiting other people's houses, you will be prohibited to work.  

If you have a separate entrance you will operate just as any high street salon. Naturally, you will want to limit the areas the client can access and want to keep your family safe. 

Spas will have even further considerations with showers, changing areas, wet rooms, relaxation rooms etc. 

If you are mobile many of the list above will be out of your control as you are entering other people's premises. Your PPE will be extremely important, and I would suggest getting shoe coverings that you can use when going in to other people's homes.  

I would also insist that only the person you are treating is home and I would send a list of hygiene protocols that the client must implement before you arrive. Ideally, if I were mobile, I would find a place to work from so as I could have complete control over the environment I was working in.
It is a lot to consider, and can seem very overwhelming, but take small chunks each day and before you know it you will have completed your list.  
You only have one chance to get this right…make your comeback stronger than your set back.

Marie-Louise Coster is a Beauty Therapist, Trainer and Business Consultant, with over 20 years' experience in the industry. All About Mi Beauty & Holistic Training School is ABT-accredited.