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NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

NIOSH Safety and Health Topic:

Body Art

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For people who do not know much about the body art industry, tattoos and body piercings appear as permanent markings and decorative metal. But this industry is actually a unique form of art. Tattoo artists can honor people or memories that were an important part of a person's life. Body piercers intricately place each piercing to express a person's individuality or culture.

The body art industry is unique because its artists express themselves through living art, but in doing so, artists may also come in contact with their client's blood. Because of this, tattoo artists and body piercers may also be exposed to a bloodborne pathogen such as hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

These bloodborne pathogens are viruses that are spread by coming in contact with the blood of an infected person. Body artists may be exposed to a bloodborne pathogen by getting stuck with a used needle or if blood splashes into their eyes, nose, or mouth.

If you have recently been exposed to blood, click here

Bloodborne pathogens can be dangerous and may cause permanent illness. Not only are artists at risk, but so are their families. If an artist gets one of these viruses, he or she may become ill and not be able to support his or her family, or may possibly expose family members to the virus.

Tattoo procedureThe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) looked at artists' work practices to see what can be done to lower their chance of being exposed to a bloodborne disease.

NIOSH met with representatives from a number of organizations and agencies to help identify the hazards and bloodborne pathogen risks tattoo artists and body piercers experience while working.

NIOSH surveyed two body piercing shops in 1999 (PDF) and 2000 (PDF) and found body piercers have a higher chance of being exposed to a bloodborne pathogen than the general public. Certain practices used in body piercing and tattooing could increase the chance of coming in contact with blood.

Exposures to blood in the body art industry can be reduced by:

  1. Vaccinating and educating
  2. Preventing needlestick injuries
  3. Three needles
    This photo courtesy of Kris Lachance.
    Reducing cross-contamination
  4. Reading additional information about topics related to body piercing and tattooing

The contents of this web page represent recommendations by NIOSH. They draw upon regulations and other materials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S. Department of Labor, upon guidelines by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and from findings and recommendations by NIOSH. Sources for these recommendations are cited in footnotes. In considering these NIOSH recommendations, users should also be aware of applicable state and local laws that may impact their implementation.

Page last updated: April 28, 2008
Page last reviewed: November 21, 2007
Content Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Body Art

Body Art: man with tattooed back

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