Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. speaks at the New York Hispanic Cosmetology & Beauty Chamber of Commerce’s 4th Annual “Business, Cosmetology Licensing & Regulations Symposium” at Lehman College on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. At the event, Borough President Diaz discussed his recently introduced legislation calling for the creation of a letter grading system for cosmetology businesses, including nail salons, spas, barber shops, beauty parlors and other similar businesses throughout the five boroughs.

Good morning.

It’s great to be here, with the leaders of the beauty industry, as you celebrate your accomplishments from the past year and look forward to a successful 2015.

I also want to take a moment to thank my good friend, your president, Charito Cisneros, for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. For years, Charito and I have partnered on our annual “DiVA Spa” event for domestic violence awareness, and I am always grateful and appreciative of her continued support and friendship.

I’m here today to discuss a major legislative priority of my office, one that we developed in reaction to a personal incident.

Over the summer my wife’s aunt, like a lot of women, got a pedicure. She was expecting just to look nice, but shortly thereafter her finger got infected. She had a painful, puss-filled bump on her foot, where the nail met the cuticle. It eventually required a visit to the emergency room, where we learned it was likely caused by unsterilized, dirty equipment at the nail salon.

That got me thinking. I, myself, will occasionally get a manicure—I’m not ashamed to tell you that—and I have noticed that many of the procedures you can get in a beauty salon are almost medical in nature. There’s dead skin, there’s blood, and there are chemicals and particles in the air that make breathing hazardous for customers and employees alike.

When I brought my thoughts on the health risks in beauty salons and similar businesses back to my office, the reactions were similar to mine. In fact, every single woman who I spoke with had a horror story of their own, a terrible story about a manicure, pedicure or other beauty procedure gone wrong.

I decided to act. In September, I announced that I had put forward a series of legislation creating new regulations concerning salons, spas and other related beauty businesses, starting with the creation of a new letter grading system for such businesses.

The legislation was introduced at my behest Council Member Rafael Espinal, chairperson of the City Council’s Consumer Affairs committee. The new system will be modeled after the current letter grading system used by the Department of Health to monitor restaurants and food service establishments.

In addition to creating a new letter grade and inspection system, I have also called for the creation of a “Customer’s Bill of Rights,” which would be hung conspicuously in each establishment. I’ve also introduced a resolution calling on the New York State Division of Licensing Services to expand its health and safety training options.

Now, I know that many business owners in this industry are operating clean, respectable establishments. If I thought differently, I would not be here today.

However, while most salon and spa owners operate clean, reputable establishments, some do not, and they are putting the health and safety of their customers at great risk.

These proposals come in response to numerous reports of health and sanitation issues arising from dirty salons and spas, similar to those anecdotes we hear from our friends and family.

A 2013 report by Sara A. Walsh, titled “Beyond the Polish: An Examination of Hazardous Conditions in Nail Salons and Potential Solutions for the Industry in New York City,” noted that unsanitary salons can lead to a variety of hazards, including staph or MRSA, hepatitis, fungus and other infections.

This summer, Public Advocate Letitia James also released a report, “How Safe is Your Nail Salon?,” which outlined safety hazards facing both customers and employees in nail salons, such as air quality issues created by chemicals used during manicures and pedicures, among other issues.

The procedures used in many salons can almost be medical in nature, yet oversight of these businesses is very minimal. In fact, reports indicate that there are only 23 inspectors for the entire state. We have to change that.

The proposals we have put forward will go a long way towards ensuring that the people of this city have a clean and safe atmosphere to get their hair done, to get a manicure or pedicure, or any of the other practices typically found in spas and beauty establishments.

So far, we have heard nothing but good things from everyone who has heard about this proposed legislation, businesses and people alike. But we are always working to make this legislation better.

In the coming months I will be meeting with business owners and other organizations, just like yourself, to discuss how we can fine tune our legislation and make it responsive not just to customers, but to employees and business owners as well.

The health and safety of the people of this city is our top priority, and these bills will go a long way towards protecting New Yorkers from unhealthy, potentially dangerous conditions. I look forward to working with all of you to make our city’s salons and spas safer for everyone.

Thank you.