Safety & The Spa: Part I: Public Health

This is the first installment of a three-part series entitled Safety & The Spa. Part one tackles the issue of public health. Part II reviews OSHA regulations and employee safety, and Part III deals with sanitation issues regarding bodied so water and bathing, including pools, hot tubs, and hydrotherapy equipment.

The Wellness Resource predicts that spas will be subjected to increasing government scrutiny in regards to both employee health (OSHA standards) and public health.
The popularity of spas will increasing put the safety of spa services "under the radar" of state and local health departments. Spa directors must be ready to address the challenge.

The transmission of disease to clients in a spa setting is a public health issue regulated by the state and local health agencies. To counteract the potential negative impact of government regulation, the spa industry must teach safety standards as a matter of course in spa education. Similar to acupuncture licensure, which has as part of the certification requirements for many states' a course in safety, using the'clean needle technique". The technique involves learning how to handle needles and dispose of them in a hygienic manner.

Spas must adhere to strict protocols and practice "extreme sanitation" to protect employees and spa visitors. This means treating each person in the spa as if they have a disease, and taking appropriate precautions to avoid contamination. Spa directors must stay current on federal, state, local codes and regulations, adopt a "One-Time Use" principle for operating supplies including disposable garments (such as women's panties, men's briefs, towels, linens, facial, and sponges), and pay attention to proper aquatic hygiene and sanitation procedures for pools, hot tubs, and hydrotherapy treatments.

Spas must commit to the first adage of medicine: "First do no harm." Failure to provide a clean and safe environment vioates this fundamental principle. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that 109 women were infected with boils in a nail salon from receiving pedicures. The purple sores on the legs of customers were caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium fortuitum, present in whirlpool footbaths. The article reports that this the first time such an outbreak has been documented in America's nail care business. In some cases, the infections took as long as six months to heal. Some of the women were permanently scarred.

Skin infections are the most common infections spread spas, however diarrhea, bladder infections, and viral infections have also been traced to poor water conditions. State health departments in the United States require certain levels of chlorine and Ph. Chlorine does not sterilize the water (make water germ free), but it does a good job of killing most germs. However, a few germs can survive normal pool, hot tub, and spa levels of chlorine for several hours to days. Chlorine must be maintained at proper levels to kill most germs. . "Regulating the chlorine levels instead of the bacteria count is a somewhat archaic method of testing," says Eva Jensch of Spa Concepts International.

Balancing the need for sanitation with environmental concerns, however is not always easy. Some of the disinfectants used in spas actually cause harm to guests and employees. "We have made a strong commitment to 'going green' says Kathy Neslon, Spa Director of Kabuki Springs & Spa in San Francisco states. "When a massage therapist came to me complaining about the fumes emanating from the freshly cleaned hydrotherapy tub in her room, I knew we had to make some changes." Although Kabuki's public baths must be chlorinated by law, Nelson makes an effort to use organic products and non-toxic chemicals throughout the spa. "If we want to heal people, we must also heal the planet," preaches Nelson.