Nail salons have the highest health inspection fail rate of any personal service in Ottawa since 2015, according to an analysis of information from Open Data Ottawa. 

As well, the number of inspections in the personal service industry has decreased significantly, Ottawa Public Health data shows and that seems to have affected business safety practices.

Salons and other personal service businesses have to meet and follow safety standards to be in compliance with the guidelines of the Ottawa Public Health. These standards include keeping "records of accidental exposures to body fluids," having a "sink equipped with liquid soap and paper towels” and “disinfecting reusable tools with approved disinfectants before using them."

"You don’t want to contaminate the shop, you have to maintain standards in order to be within the guidelines of the City of Ottawa," says Mike Cardiff, owner of Elegant Nails and Spa.

The salon has received nine non-critical inspections since 2018, and has been in compliance with the Health Protection and Promotion Act R.S.O. 1990 since July 2022. "We want to be known as clean and safe," says Cardiff.

Failing to meet the required safety standards can pose a serious danger for the health and safety of clients, potentially exposing them to viruses such as hepatitis, HIV and fungal and bacterial infections, Ottawa Public Health says.

"We use single-use equipment. We use disposable flip-flops, and with the tools we clean them with alcohol at 70 per cent. After cleaning, we let it dry," says Gap Tran, manager of BN Nail and Foot Spa. "We always use different tools for different clients. We don’t want our clients to get an infection."

The salon has received 11 critical inspections since 2015, and has since corrected a recent failed inspection in November 2022 for "discarding single-use equipment” and “working on surfaces that can be readily sterilized."

Pass/Fails in Nail Salon Inspections

Trends in nail salons and manicure shops failing or passing Ottawa Public Health inspections have fluctuated over the years. Passes took a sharp dip in 2018-19, just before the pandemic and a sharp uptick in 2020-21 during the pandemic.

Chloё Sykes had nails done at High Definition Nails & Spa. Their primary concern was cost. 

“I probably don't care about health and safety as much as I should. If somebody said it's really bad in terms of health and safety, I probably wouldn't go but the main thing I look for is that they did a good job on my nails,” Sykes said, adding that they felt more comfortable when people wore masks.

Sykes says the nail salon was relatively clean, despite there being no data about inspections at this particular salon. They emphasize that they don't actively think about health and safety inspections, and assume that if the place is open, it must be safe. 

Number of Health Inspections before and after COVID-19

The number of health inspections across the Personal Service industry has been trending downwards for a number of years, according to data from Ottawa Public Health. 

Personal services include nail salons, spas, hair salons and tattoo parlors. Ottawa Public Health says the reduction in the number of checks is because that many health inspectors were reassigned due to the pandemic.

“While not yet back to full capacity due to the pandemic response and reallocation of Public Health Inspectors, OPH has steadily increased the number of inspections completed each year since the pandemic began,” the agency said.

The data, which dates back to 2015, demonstrates a decline in inspections that is consistent with the reallocation of inspectors, as well as the closure of many businesses, during the pandemic.

For many, COVID-19 was the cause for increased concern regarding health and sanitation. Certain studies, such as those from the International Journal of Social Psychology and the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, found that health anxiety rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, however a different study from PLOS One found that the rise in health anxiety was less significant. 

There was a significant increase in health inspections in 2020, however 2021 was the lowest year on record. 

In terms of nail salons, there has been the same overall downward trend in inspections.

However, this trend has been more varied, with a larger drop in 2018 followed by an increase in 2019 as opposed to 2020.

Like with all personal service inspections, there was a significant drop in 2021.

In both cases, the numbers have just begun to return to pre-pandemic levels.