Ottawa Public Health says it needs a bigger budget and more health inspectors to keep tabs on the increasing number of businesses that offer extreme body modification procedures – like tongue splitting and branding.
Representatives from public health presented their concerns to the Ottawa Board of Health in June and recommended a $200,000 boost to the budget to hire two additional full-time inspectors. Siobhan Kearns, the city manager in charge of health inspectors, says staff are strained and struggling to keep up with a growing list of invasive procedures offered at local tattoo and piercing studios.
“Every time a new procedure pops up, we’re scrambling to do the research, find out the background and best practices,” Kearns said.
Extreme procedures like tongue splitting, where the tongue is cut to resemble snakes; scarification, where tiny incisions are made on the body in the shape of a design; and branding, where the skin is burned using a cautery pen, are making it harder for inspectors to identify potential risks and hazards.
Kearns says that neither Health Canada nor the Ontario Ministry of Health have any legislation or guidelines when it comes to these forms of body modification, forcing inspectors to research and learn as they go.
Tattoo and piercing studios fall into the city’s high-risk, personal-service category. Kearns says Ottawa has 212 high-risk, personal-service facilities, including nail salons, acupuncture clinics and laser hair removal centres, but only five of the city’s 45 inspectors – those on the outbreak management team – are able to inspect them.
In addition to inspecting these facilities, Kearns says the inspectors are also responsible for inspecting institutions, long-term care facilities and hospitals.
Kearns said as of June 30 this year, only 30 of the 212 high-risk, personal-service facilities had been inspected.
Ben Anderson is a local tattoo and piercing artist based in Ottawa, who has performed a variety of body modification procedures. He says although there are people in the city who undergo these procedures, they’re very rare.
“This is a very, very, very white-collar town,” Anderson said. “It’s not like a lot of places employ people who look too out of the norm.”
Anderson says he began tattooing and piercing 15 years ago before gradually moving into more extreme forms of body art. He learned how to perform different forms of body modification, including scarification, as an apprentice and started by practising on himself. He works out of Future Skin on Rideau Street.
He says that despite their invasive nature, body modification procedures are always performed in sterile environments with equipment that is completely sterilized and disposable.
Still, Anderson says when it comes to any type of invasive procedure, it’s important to know the risks.
“People should educate themselves on everything,” he said. “Whether it’s the sterilization procedures done at any tattoo shop they’re going to, or whether they’re getting their nails done . (people) should always ask questions about how everything’s cleaned.”
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