Ounce of Prevention

Managing your risk comes with the territory

By Nora Brunner

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, April/May 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Skin Care Professionals. All rights reserved.

A man sues a woman he’s dating for the return of expensive gifts he bought her after she refused to become his fourth wife.

A woman claims a bad hair treatment at a salon was so emotionally upsetting to her that she successfully sued because she could no longer work her two jobs.

A woman sues her cell phone company because she believes her town has been slurred by the town’s misspelled name on her monthly bill.

Sound wacky? These are actual lawsuits filed in the United States, according to Colorado author Randy Cassingham, who issues annual Stella Awards(www.stellaawards.com) for the most outrageous litigation filed each year.

It’s worse than scary to think something like this could happen to you. But liability claims in the skin care profession have racked up as much as one million dollars paid out for a single case. Even if you are on solid legal ground when a claim is made, there’s no making up for the time, anguish, and disruption a claim or lawsuit can mean to your life and practice. Think about the stakes involved should you happen to ruin someone’s wedding.

Even with your Associated Skin Care Professionals liability coverage, it only makes sense to reduce every possible risk in the operation of your business. While it’s not possible to eliminate all risk, history has taught us that many risks to your business can be greatly reduced. The following are questions designed to get you thinking about better ways to ward off trouble.

Facility, Equipment, Insurance

•Am I in compliance with all licensing, Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, health codes, and local regulations governing my practice and operational safety?

•Do my employees meet any applicable licensing and certification rules, and do I have copies of their documents on file? Have they supplied me with proof of their liability insurance? Do I have a system of reminders to check/update any documents that may expire?

•Do I have a complete policy and procedure manual governing all aspects of operation?

•Am I working within my scope of practice with appropriate training? Are my employees doing the same?

•Have I researched regulations governing the design and creation of my spa, salon, or workspace before beginning construction or remodeling? Have I allowed for:

+Handling of potentially dangerous materials?
+Proper sanitation?
+Quality equipment that meets any applicable safety/certification regulations?
+ Regulations for handicapped accessibility?
+Sufficient electrical power for the equipment I plan to use?
+ Ventilation?

• Have I remembered to include warranty and service checks on washing machines, coffee pots, and other equipment?

• Do I have copies of and understand equipment warranties and servicing guidelines for which I’m responsible? Am I familiar with any risks in operation of that equipment?

•Do I have a system of reminders for servicing equipment at the proper time?

•Have I received proper training for use and maintenance of this equipment from the manufacturer or other reliable resource? Have my employees? Do I have a record that this training has been accomplished? Is the training given at my workplace insured by the trainer?

•Have I budgeted realistically so that equipment servicing and replacement are possible in an appropriate timetable?

•Do I understand my ASCP liability coverage and have I taken steps to protect myself for anything that isn’t covered?

•Do I understand the limits of my employer’s coverage as it applies to my practice?

•Do I have a system of reminders for keeping all coverage up to date?

Employment, Privacy, Record Management

•Have I sought up-to-date and complete legal forms that govern relevant aspects of my business, such as employment applications and sample service contracts? (Visit www.ascpskincare.com, Members section, Business Management, for sample service contracts.)

•Do my employees and I have easy access to this information? Are the following included:

+ Customer service expectations?
+Employment expectations and practices, including dress code, computer and phone use, conduct, grounds for termination, at-will employment status?
+Operations guidelines such as hours and closing procedures?
+ Safety practices and procedures?

• Do I clearly understand my or my staff’s status as either employees or independent contractors? Are my work practices in accordance with this status? Are theirs?

•Is this status and related practices outlined in a contract or employment/training agreement or manual? Is a signed contract or agreement by the employee, contract person, and myself on file? Are training, licensing, and certification agreements signed and on file?

•Do I have a complete job application on file for each employee and did I independently check references and licensing, certification, and training information?

• Do I have an employee pay incentive compensation agreement? Does it include the parameters of how I am committed to that employee (that is, work days and hours, compensation, employee accomplishments needed for promotion/additional compensation, frequency of pay, training expectations, dollar value of training, and reimbursement for same in the event of employee departure?)

• Have I taken steps to ensure confidentiality of customer and employee records?

• Do my employees understand that all client information, including contact information, payment details, intake information, and type of services received are strictly confidential?

• Do I have safeguards for the operation of my computer system and privacy of customer, employee, and financial documents? Do I have appropriate hard copies or regular computer backups in the event of system crashes or downtime?

Customers and Treatments

•Do my customers fully understand and sign off on any risks of any procedures they undergo? Do I have these on file? Do I regularly update intake forms to monitor any changes to health, allergies, pregnancy, or other conditions? Login at www.ascpskincare.com and click on Client Treatment for forms.

•Do I supply proper written preparatory information prior to services for customers when appropriate?

•Do I supply proper written home care instructions after a treatment?

•Do I understand the risks of product interactions? Waxing? Skin care treatments?

• Do I understand which products I use are covered by insurance? Do I understand that the mixing and blending of products can nullify coverage of the end-result material, even if the products are covered separately?

Accidents and Emergencies

Do I look for ways to reduce the risk of slips, falls, and other accidents in the workplace, such as:

• Deicing steps and sidewalks?

• Taping cords to floors?

• Childproofing waiting areas?

• Providing sufficient lighting to doorways and stairs?

•Quickly cleaning up spills and keeping walkways and corridors clear of obstacles?

•Clearly labeling all potentially dangerous substances and materials, as well as areas that are off-limits to customers and visitors?

•Regularly monitoring smoke alarms, if applicable? Conducting fire drills?

•Seeing that fire extinguishers are the correct type (Class ABC)? Do I have them checked annually by an extinguisher maintenance firm?

•Making sure I have first-aid kits and emergency supplies, such as batteries and flashlights, on hand?

•Soliciting employee/contractor feedback on how to run a safer and better operation?

• Knowing any regulations or licensing requirements governing the serving of alcohol or food at my facility?

•Managing responsibly the consumption of alcohol at any open houses, holiday parties, or other events in my facility?

Incidents and Claims

•Have I shown compassion and respect for the customer in discussing the incident?

•Have I gathered any witness information, filled out all paperwork, and notified my insurance carrier/s of the incident as promptly as possible?

• Do I have a camera on hand and have I taken photographs of the relevant aspects of the incident, such as the customer’s skin, the accident site, and the equipment involved?

•Do I require that my employees report all incidents?

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This information was compiled from a variety of sources and is meant as a teaching tool, not as an all-inclusive list of risk issues. Practitioners with questions should consult appropriate local, state, and federal agencies for guidelines specific to their location and circumstances.