Cracking Down on Unsafe and Unsanitary Body Piercing Practices

Niles, Michigan, in the dying embers of February 2020.It was business as usual at the Paparazzi Tattoo & Body Piercing Shop until health officers from the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) crashed the party and brought everything to a halt!

The crackdown confirmed the suspicions of the “unsafe and unsanitary practices,” at the facility.

And it’s embarrassing to discover that the so-called OSHA bloodborne pathogen compliance law may be merely a thing of the books— and of no concern to service providers.

Body piercing involves the use of sharp objects to puncture the skin in areas— like the ears, eyes, nose, tongue, bellybutton, nipples or even private parts— for beauty purposes. Many tattoo shops offer these services alongside body tattooing.

And in the case of Paparrazzi Tattoo & Body Piercing, the Tattoo section was well in compliance with the law. But most of the shop’s Piercing services (except for ear and nose piercings) were found to be “unsafe and unsanitary.”

In light of that, anyone who has visited the shop through Feb 2020 could be at the risk of bloodborne infections. Why? Because unsafe and unsanitary practices in a public facility—where customers share sharps—can lead to the spread of the disease that reside in the human blood and body fluids.

The BCHD now recommend that all those who received piercings (of the nipples, tongue, bellybutton and private part)take blood testsfor diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Why Is this Discovery a Red Flag? Who is at Risk?

So is there reason to worry? And what’s whole idea of blood and diseases spreading from one person to another? 

Bloodborne pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms that can transmit from an infected person to another through the exchange of blood or other bodily fluids.

A body piercing expert who uses a sharp on an infected customer and fails to take the necessary safety measures before using it on the next client may expose them to infections.

The human blood may carry disease-causing microorganisms known as bloodborne pathogens (BPP). These could either be bacteria or viruses contracted elsewhere or passed on through blood and body fluids—since infections in the blood can spread to body fluids such as semen, breast milk, etc.

And since the naked eye can’t tell whether one’s blood is infected or not, it is advisable to take maximum precaution all the time.

There are many bloodborne pathogens, but the most common infections are HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C— which are all viruses.

A newly infected person may not see symptoms for a long time, which can also increase the chances of spreading it to others. Plus, some of them are incurable which means (if infected) one has to live with them all their life.

Still, early detection and (and intervention) is important in managing and controlling the spread of these infections.

Also, while a test may not disclose how or where one was infected, knowing your infection status can help you get the best medical assistance moving forward.

Who is at Risk?

According to the Berrien County health department, the shop has been in operation for almost a decade—since 2010.

And because it is not clear how long these unsafe practices have continued, BCHD further advises strongly that anybody who has tongue, bellybutton, nippleor private part piercings from Paparazzi should test for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hep C.

So anything piercing between 2010 and Feb 2020 means you should get tested.

What to Do If You were Pierced at Paparazzi.

Those who went for these forms of piercings at Paparazzi are advised totake tests for the following infections;

  • HIV
  • Hep B,
  • Hep C,

Testing can be done at any healthcare facility or STD testing center (because these diseases also fall under STIs).

However, the Berrien County Health Department welcomes all to theirfacilities in Niles and Benton Harbor. 

For faster testing and shorter waiting times, go to;

  • BCHD Niles office (1205 Front Street) on Tue or Thurs.
  • BCHD Benton Harbor office (2149 E. Napier Ave.) on Mon or Thurs.

Still, these BHCD facilitieswill test you any day if for some reason you can make it on the mentioned days.

For any positive result, BCHD will offer guidance on what to do and how to get medical assistance.

What Action Has the BCHD Taken?

As punishment for failure to comply, the BCHD has cancelled the Paparazzi Tattoo & Body piercing’s work permit or license.

And to ensure every possible victim is aware, the BCHD was to use the shop’s piercing records to recommend tests and offer guidance.

As of this posting, the crackdown continues, but the BCHD has not yet reported any HIV, Hepatitis B or Hep C infections tied to the unsafe practices atthe shop in Niles.

How You Can be Safe in Future

To stay safe, start with Hep B and Hep A vaccines. It is advisable to have an expert help you check your vaccination background and find out what other vaccines may prove useful.

Next, taking a full STI test from time to timecan help you stay on top of your reproductive health.

You can also take a short online bloodborne pathogens course from The American Academy of CPR and First Aid Inc.,to learn more about BPPs and how to avoid infection.

What If You Want to Pierce in Future?

Nothing is wrong with piercing any part of your body as long as it happens correctly and hygienically.

  1. First confirm whether the piercing service is compliant with OSHA bloodborne pathogen regulations.
  2. Next confirm whether the equipment is sterilized, and how it is done 
  3. Confirm whether the artist is qualified to do body piercing
  4. Check the general hygiene of the shop or facility
  5. Check for spaciousness because a squeezed shop is prone to accidents and blood splashes

Lastly, be sure to double-check everything mentioned on this websitebefore choosing a service provider

Are You Safe? Tracing the History of Non-compliance & Unsafe Practices among Service providers.

You might be at a higher risk—piercing your body, visiting a dentist or getting a tattoo in the US—than you think. Compliance in the health and Tattoo & body Piercing industries has been more of a cat-and-rat chase.

When the cat’s (the authorities) not around, the rat (service providers) can play around, break rules and put people’s health at risk.

Pennsylvania- April, 2013: OSHA subjected the Keystone Pain Institute, a health center in Pennsylvania to fines worth $46,800 for acting against bloodborne pathogens rules.

Three months later…

San DiegoJuly 19, 2013: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publicly pressed serious BPP-related health violations aginstSmile Center Dental, a Columbia-based dental service. The Administration mentioned that the Smile Center crackdown was triggered by complaints from a whistleblower and led to proposed fines to the tune of $61,600.

Last year Southwest Florida,(Feb 13, 2019): A fox 4 news Headline Reads:

“Almost 100 tattoo shops fail health inspections in Southwest Florida in last year, many have since passed inspection”

Over a hundred shops—which is an alarming number— were found engaging unsafe and unsanitary practices. At that time, the South Florida department of Health added (on its website) a list of all non-compliant shops.

And since then, the department has been approving shops that made the recommended changes for reopening. But no follow up has since been done to It see to it that all the shops really got in compliance.

So the Tattoo shop in Niles is not the only case of negligence, after all. Not all service providers who use sharps or needles on you follow OSHA bloodborne pathogen safety practices. 

It means you’re not safe. It also means you must take more seriously the issue of bloodborne pathogen safety and compliance in the places you visit.

Bloodborne pathogen safety starts from being as canning as insisting on the use of sanitized/sterilized or NEW equipment all the time. 

Do this for your tattooist, dentist, piercer or doctor— or anyone else who uses publicly shared sharps on you during a service.

Be ready to pay extra if it means staying safe. After all, protection or prevention is better than cure.

Watch out for other potential exposures!

The risk of BPPs is not only in a hospital, dentist’s room or tattoo and body piercing facility. Any blood spill may expose other to pathogens. Here are potential exposures and how to stay safe

  • Sharp needles: Have strict no dithering policy on sharing sharps or needles with strangers
  • Doing first aid on a victim: Always use personal protective gear such as goggles, gloves every time blood spills occur, or you’re at the danger of getting exposed. 
  • Exposure at work: Go through and familiarize yourself with your company’s Exposure Control Plan, especially if accidents are common in your workplace. An exposure plan prepares you for what to do if you get exposed at work.
  • Poor Needle Disposal:Watch out for needle disposal and practice safe disposal to avoid putting others at risk.
  • Practice protected sex to avoid transmission through sexual intercourse.

 And lastly, report any unsafe and unsanitary practices that could risk your health and that of others.