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Should 'cowboy' hairdressers face the chop?

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Most of us have, at some stage or another had a bad experience at the hairdressers; be it a dodgy haircut or an unflattering dye job. But what happens when the result is more extreme than simply an unfortunate haircut? What recourse do customers have when a trip to the hairdressers results in injury or worse?

Conservative MP, David Morris, called for stricter regulation on the hairdressing trade amid fears that “cowboy” hairdressers pose a danger to unsuspecting customers. At present, there is little recourse for customers who experience problems following hair appointments. However, recent cases have demonstrated the need for more stringent regulation of the profession. We recently blogged about a lady who died and another lady who suffered serious brain damage after using home kit hair dyes. It would appear that they both suffered a severe allergic reaction to a chemical within the hair dye. These chemicals are also likely to be used by many practising hairdressers. We also blogged back in September about a lady who received compensation after a hairdresser left her with a burnt scalp and straw-like hair following an attempt to dye her hair from brunette to blonde.

By way of a further example, I recently acted on behalf of a woman who suffered chemical burns to her eyes following a routine trip to the hairdressers for a straightforward perm. The hairdresser allowed the perm solution to get into her eyes and, consequently, she required immediate and intensive treatment at the Accident & Emergency Department to restore the normal pH balance in her eyes. She continued to suffer pain and discomfort for some time afterwards and received compensation. Perhaps this particular hairdresser would have taken more care if he or she had been subject to stricter regulation, which involved a risk of being prevented from practising as a hairdresser following negligent treatment. 

Often, hairdressing mishaps result from rare allergic reactions to chemicals which cannot be predicted. However, many incidents are entirely preventable and result from a mere lack of care and attention on behalf of the hairdresser. In such circumstances, at present, there is no recourse against the hairdresser other than legal action for personal injury. Indeed, of the estimated 300,000 practising hairdressers in the UK, only around 6,500 are registered as there is no legal requirement for them to be so.

Mr Morris raised this issue in the House of Commons on 30th November 2011, arguing that hairdressers should be regulated in the same way as dentists and doctors and should have to prove their qualifications before they are able to practise on the public.

Unfortunately, the proposals were rejected by his fellow MPs, who felt that there was no requirement for change. So, for now, it seems that hairdressers can continue to practise without registration or regulation, with no threat of sanction other than damage to their reputation. For customers, this means that the only recourse available following an injury at a hairdressing salon is a civil claim for personal injury and resulting loss.

If you or someone you know has suffered an injury or illness as a result of a hair or beauty treatment, then we at Stephensons have experienced staff who can assist. Call us for a free initial assessment on 01616 966 229.

By personal injury solicitor, Danielle O’Neil