Cracking down

After hairdressers and barbers were ordered to wear type two masks in a governmental U-turn a few weeks back, we caught up with the experts who reveal how to remain positive and get past the challenges which come with the tightened restrictions.

After re-opening on July 4, salon professionals were only instructed to wear plastic face visors in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. Following a meeting, the sub-group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) decided that visors alone were “unlikely to be an effective control for aerosol transmission” which means type two surgical masks are now mandatory within salons.

We know what you’re thinking, it’s a kick in the teeth, but ultimately it could be a mask which is standing between you and another lockdown. The world is still in a state of ongoing change whilst attempting to battle COVID-19 and as fellow colleagues within the hair and beauty industry, we must appreciate that whilst working, you are part of that process. Whilst change is a commonly recognised source of stress, uncertainty and anxiety, it is important to understand that as an industry, the introduction of the type two mask has meant salons can remain open and colleagues can continue to earn a living whilst keeping themselves and their clients safer (alongside the other measures within the salon environment).

Health and Safety Professional, Nigel Bonsor, (@nigel_bonsor) explained how the combination of the visor and mask will decrease the risk of contamination, as the nose and mouth are more securely covered. There is less possibility of airborne viral transmission compared to just using the visor. It’s a more “belt and braces” approach, which is needed if we are to bring the transmission (R) rate down.

It came with great frustration to learn that some people weren’t abiding the government guidelines and Nigel revealed that he also shared these feelings: “It showed a blatant disregard for their clients’ wellbeing and the possible knock-on effect to others. It also threatened a potential governmental U-turn to close the industry down again and there was genuine fear amongst colleagues as to what would happen if this was to occur.” Thankfully, the government took a more lenient approach with the addition of further protective equipment.

Regarding the importance of compliance, there is a moral duty to your clients, colleagues and society in general as a professional to ensure you are doing your best for us all to move positively and quickly through this pandemic.

“I have seen a huge increase in unannounced ‘spot’ inspections by local enforcing authorities across all industries.” Explained Nigel. If government guidance is not followed, local enforcing authorities have the power to prosecute you under health and safety law. As COVID-19 control falls under existing health and safety law, the existing punishments apply, including business closures, fines and even imprisonment where appropriate.

We understand masks aren’t the most comfortable work garment, especially when working a ten-hour shift. You’re not alone if the PPE is making you feel slightly claustrophobic, it obviously takes time to get used to. For most colleagues it is probably too late to suggest the “baby steps” approach, where you apply it for a short period of time at home and gradually increase the time wearing it, but where this is relevant, it is very effective in combating the change in breathing sensations associated with face masks, according to Nigel.

Nigel encourages you to research relaxation and anxiety reducing methods such as meditative or mindfulness techniques: “If one method does not work do not be disheartened, there are many options available. If you are really struggling, you can seek professional guidance regarding anxiety management. I would also suggest reaching out to others who wear face masks within their professions and seeing what works for them.

“Whilst hairdressers can share their directly comparable experiences and coping mechanisms, you can think further afield for others where their faces are covered, such as nurses, firefighters and even wielders.” Their experiences may not be identical, but they have probably been wearing their face coverings for longer than you so may have picked up a few tricks and tips along the way.

Chief Executive at the NHBF, Hilary Hall, reminded us that it’s important to remember COVID-19 hasn’t gone away despite restrictions being lifted: “As infection rates are rising, it is likely that there will be more local lockdowns and we have been warned in the past by a government department about industry specific lockdowns.”

Hilary explained that the PPE guidelines are based on the most up to date and extensive research by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The nature of most hair and beauty treatments, working so close to clients and often in front of and around the face, puts us in a ‘high-risk’ category, and what the government has named ‘close contact services’. This means that we have to wear more PPE than in other industries.

“Research into COVID-19 is ongoing and so updating all the time. The rules changed because SAGE identified that, whilst visors can protect the wearer from exposure to large droplets and also protect the wearer from exposure through the eyes, they are unlikely to protect the wearer against ‘aerosol’ transmission. These are tiny particles that can remain in the air and be breathed in. Plus, visor wearers can still pass on the virus to others via large droplets or tiny particles in the air.” Explained Hilary.

As a result, the governments guidelines were strengthened to include wearing a type two face mask in addition to a visor. The aim is to further protect both the wearer and others. The majority of hair, beauty and barbering professionals have always had incredibly high hygiene standards – it’s just part of the job.

Hilary added: “The government spotlight on hygiene management is definitely here to stay – across all industries and to avoid lockdowns which will further harm businesses and professionals in our industry. We need to ensure that we are all adhering to the guidelines to protect ourselves and each other.”

We like the advice from Manager at TONI & GUY Shoreditch, Stuart Marsh, who says: “In the hardest of times we are ever likely to experience – think positive! This will end. We will eventually go back to normal somehow.

“Whilst it’s difficult, that’s for sure, the advantage for hairdressers is that we love our jobs! Most of my fellow colleagues could not wait to get back into the salon and so the necessary changes became second nature to what we could deliver for each client. Knowing how much our clients needed us has allowed the team to brave the changes. Just make sure you plan your day, work to time and try to go outside when possible. This will calm and cleanse you in between appointments whilst clearing your mind.”

We can’t begin to comprehend how difficult it has been, and as much as it has become a natural routine, it cannot be underestimated how challenging the effect on everyone. Just remember, you are working to ensure that this virus doesn’t spread and that’s the bigger picture.

Again, although the masks are not always comfortable to wear for hours on end, you can only keep trying: “Realistically we are working our hardest, and I would like to say to fellow salon owners/workers – don’t worry if you get it wrong. It’s new and not the norm. We will get there.” Said Stuart.

After all, maintaining high hygiene levels is something you pride yourselves on in this industry anyway, so keep on doing what you’re doing. “We can only look forward to the days when we can finally smile, and our clients actually see it!” Said Stuart.

Now you’ve had a good few weeks to get used to wearing the type two masks, you should take a minute to look how far you’ve come. Nobody knows what’s round the corner but by doing your bit, you’re volunteering in holding our incredible industry together and you should be immensely proud of yourselves.