New Body Art Codes to Keep Public Safe

Exterior of Defiance Tattoos, one of the six tattoo parlors in downtown Kent.

The State of Ohio passed a new code regarding tattoo parlor inspections Sept. 1, adding new regulations that will be adopted by the City of Kent.

“[The change] is a big deal,” said Justin Smith, chief public health sanitarian at the City of Kent Health Department. “It’s the first time [the State of Ohio] reviewed [the code] and made important changes in years.”

The new regulations represent the first revamp of Ohio’s tattoo and piercing regulation since 1998.

“The tattoo industry itself has come a long way since the first code was adopted in 1998,”

– Jeff Neistadt

“The new code actually had quite a bit of input from Tattoo Industry experts which may have added extra time in the development phases.” said Jeff Neistadt, health commissioner at the City of Kent Health Department.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the rules “were created to establish minimum standards, applicable throughout Ohio, for the operation and maintenance of Body Art facilities in order to protect the public from injury, minimize the potential for disease transmission, and provide a safe and healthy environment.”

Smith said that one of the major changes included changing the title from “Tattoo and Body Piercings” to “Body Art.”

Other changes include stricter sanitation requirements and restriction of the usage of piercing guns to earlobes.

The Ohio Department of Health also added new definitions to clear up confusions between inspectors and operators.

“[The Ohio Department of Health] provided some minimum standards for sanitation and safety which is great because before they were very vague,” Smith said. “Now, [tattoo parlors] have a minimum standard that they have to meet. It’s a very good thing.”

Tattoo Parlor Inspection Requirements

Fishley holds MadaCide-FD, a germ and virus killer he uses for sterilization.
Fishley holds MadaCide-FD, a germ and virus killer he uses for sterilization.

To pass inspections, tattoo parlors have to meet the requirements of the city ordinance, Chapter 765 titled “Tattoo Operations And/Or Dermagraphic Art Studio.”

The minimum sanitation standards list includes information about the proper care, sterilization, and storage of instruments.

It also covers the operator’s required clothing, hand washing, gloves, lap cloths and prohibits smoking during the tattooing operation.

Another section lists the minimum floor space, degree of illumination, condition of walls, ceilings, floors, operating tables and chairs and other regulations. For example, the code states that the premises must have an area of “at least one hundred square feet” and that floors must have an “impervious, smooth, and washable surface.”

According to the Kent Department of Health’s records, all Kent tattoo establishments had one to two points that were not in compliance with the listed rules on their latest inspections reports.

“For the most part [Kent tattoo parlors] do a very good job with keeping their facilities clean and updating whatever they need to do,” Smith said. “It’s my job to make sure they are doing [the procedures] correctly.”

Even though some tattoo parlors weren’t in compliance with certain rules, Smith said that doesn’t indicate failure to pass inspection.

“There’s no reason not to be clean,” said Ryan Fishley, tattoo artist at Defiance Tattoos. “It saves the customer from getting infected and it saves us from any trouble.”

Complaints and Violations

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Inside Smokin’ Tattooz, a tattoo parlor that received a letter threatening enforcement action.

The City of Kent Health Department conducts one to four inspections annually depending on the number of complaints and repeat violations.

“We go through and check their processes and make sure everything is okay,” Smith said. “We’ve gotten a few complaints. Usually it’s dealing with an unhappy customer.”

Complaints this year included unsanitized tongue piercing needles and the absence of a minor consent form at Smokin’ Tattooz.

Kent Department of Health’s records indicate both complaints were closed after the operator was able to provide the consent form and sufficient knowledge of proper sanitation requirements.

Smokin’ Tattooz was also at risk of shutting down, according to a letter sent by law director James R. Silver Feb 14, 2014 indicating that the establishment was in violation of Chapter 765.02 and was operating without a permit at the time.

“They came in immediately and paid for their license to resolve the issue,” Neistadt said.

According to the State of Ohio Rules and Regulations for Tattoo and Body Piercing establishments, it is required that all employees receive health and safety training.

Smith said tattoo shops are also obligated to check customers’ IDs and request consent from guardians of minors.

“Most of the tattoo shops here in Kent refuse to tattoo minors altogether,” Smith said. “They just don’t want to have to deal with the issues that come along with tattooing underage.”

Smith said tattoo shops often get stuck in the middle of a family feud.

Increased Inspection Fees

At January’s meeting, the Kent City Council passed a city ordinance that increased the annual inspection fee for tattoo parlors from $100 to $300.

“The reason why it was increased was because we were doing more than one inspection a year,” Smith said. “So when the health commissioner does the cost analysis, it comes out that $100 doesn’t really cover the cost to do an hour inspection in there four times.”

Smith said that $300 for a license is average or below average when compared to what other cities charge tattoo parlors.

“I think [the fees] should be more,” said Justin Evans, tattoo artist at Smokin’ Tattooz. “I think it’s pretty bad that you can open up a tattoo shop with a spare change from a jar.”

Online Inspection Reports

As food inspection reports are posted on the Kent Department of Health’s website, Smith said the tattoo and body piercing establishments will have their inspections posted on the website as well soon.

He said the public will be able to view previous reports without having to fill out a public records request at the Kent Department of Health.

Smith said he has done a couple of inspections this year, but has been waiting for the new code to get through the legislation in Kent.

“Once we have that, then I’ll have a new code that is up-to-date that I can use to do my inspections,” Smith said.