3.5 Keeping you and your clients safe

Workplace health and safety basics

Whether you are working for yourself or for someone else, workplace health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. In Australia, there is specific WHS legislation in each State and Territory that outlines responsibilities and standards for safety in the workplace. All businesses must abide by these regulations and must have policies, procedures and systems in place to support requirements.

Everyone in the workplace must play their part to ensure our workplaces are safe. This means that as a nail technician, you have a duty of care to your clients, your colleagues and to yourself. Safe Work Australia has lots of useful information relating to safety in the workplace, and it is a resource you should become familiar with throughout your career.

As a starting point, visit the following links to get an idea of the sorts of requirements that you must adhere to as a nail technician:

It is important that you keep up to date with legislation because ‘not knowing’ is not a reasonable defence. With the emergence of the global pandemic, the safety requirements for customer-facing services and roles had a major overhaul with a major focus on hygiene, personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation. While these focus areas have always been important to nail technicians, extra measures for all businesses were put in place. Sanitation with regard to nail enhancement services relates to all of the tools that you use.

Your specific duties in accordance with WHS legislation will vary depending on whether or not you are the business owner, a worker or if you employ staff. At a minimum, each of us, as workers, have a legal responsibility to:

  • Ensure our own health and safety
  • Ensure the health and safety of others
  • Comply with WHS policies and procedures
  • Take reasonable care to ensure acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others and comply with reasonable instructions

If you are not familiar with the WHS legislative framework in Australia and would like to learn more, watch the videos linked:

Keeping your clients safe

When it comes to keeping your clients safe, hygiene is absolutely critical. As you learned earlier in this course, skin infections can be very infectious, and without proper hygiene, you may inadvertently spread skin infections from one client to another. The basics of hygiene include correct handwashing, using disposables and high standards of cleanliness.

As you will have read in the hygiene guidance provided by Safe Work Australia, good hygiene requires everyone in the workplace to:

  • Cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbow or a clean tissue (no hankies!) And dispose of tissues hygienically
  • Avoid touching their face, eyes, nose and mouth
  • Wash and dry their hands completely before and after smoking a cigarette or eating
  • Clean and disinfect equipment after use
  • Maintain good personal hygiene (wash body, hair and clothes every day)
  • Hair tied back to prevent it from touching the client

In addition to hygiene basics, effective sterilisation and sanitisation in your treatment area is an absolute must.

Key phrase | Sterilisation: refers to any process that removes, kills, or deactivates all forms of life, which includes germs, bacteria and any other nasties.

Key phrase | Sanitisation: is the reduction of bacteria to safe levels (set by public health standards) to decrease the risk of infection.

Key phrase | Sanitation: the act or process of making something sanitary i.e. a sanitary work space.

For general cleaning, you will want to follow these steps:

Depending on what you are cleaning, warm soapy water may do the trick – for example, cleaning work benches, wiping down your lighting or cleaning your storage trolley. For tools that are in close contact with clients, sterilisation is a must. To sterilise equipment, there are a few methods you can use. All methods of sterilisation will require heat. The reason for this is to completely kill off any bacteria, heat must exceed 121°C (250°F).


For the beauty industry, there are three common sterilisation methods used which are UV light, moist heat and dry heat. Let’s learn a little more about each:

UV light

UV lights have become a popular sterilisation method as it is relatively inexpensive and effective. There are specific UV sterilisation machines that are purpose-built for a beauty salon environment. Without getting too technical, UV sterilisers basically use the power of UV lights to kill free-floating organisms, such as viruses.

Moist heat

Moist heat sterilisers are also referred to as auto claves, which use steam to kill any nasties. These are often used in medical settings and are very effective. However, make sure that your tools are heat resistant before putting them in an auto clave!

Dry heat

Dry heat sterilisers are the most popular option in the beauty industry because the process works and does not destroy tools with moisture like auto claves can.

You might hear some beauty industry professionals say that they soak their tools in boiling water, so they are sterilising them. Yes, boiling water has the heat component, but soaking tools in boiling water is actually considered to be a sanitation method. The reason for this is boiling water reaches 100°C, and as you learned earlier, to completely kill off any bacteria, heat must exceed 121°C (250°F).

As a nail technician starting out, it is unlikely that you will have access to an autoclave or any fancy machines, nor is there an immediate need for you to go out and purchase sterilisation machines. If you do end up using any tools that come into close contact with the client, you can pick up dry heat sterilisers for under $100, but soaking tools in hot water with a cleaning agent such as Barbicide or a bit of bleach will be a good option until you can afford sterilisation equipment. If you are using cleaning agents or bleach in your sterilisation process, then be sure to rinse and air dry after soaking.


Sanitation in your workplace is an absolute must, and you will be sanitising your work area and tools throughout your treatments, after each client and at the end of your workday. To keep your work area and tools clean, you will need to use a combination of cleaning, sanitising, and disinfecting – but aren’t they all the same? Actually, they are not. Let’s take a look at the differences:

Sanitation methodOverview
CleaningYou will clean your workspace and tools regularly to remove dirt, dust, crumbs, and germs. In your cleaning process, you will usually use warm water and cleaning agents such as soap, glass cleaner or floor cleaner. Cleaning will make your surfaces visually clean, but it will not eliminate all germs.
SanitisingSanitiser comes in many forms, including gels, sprays and even powder form. The aim of sanitising your work area, hands or tools is to lower the number of germs to a safe level. Before you sanitise something, you should always make sure it has been cleaned first. For example, skipping washing your hands in favour of just sanitising them may result in germs still being present. Sanitisers are generally safe on your skin and are often used in hospitality environments as they are safe around food.
DisinfectingDisinfectants are designed to kill germs on surfaces and objects and will usually come in the form of bleach or alcohol solutions. For disinfectants to be most effective, you will usually need to soak items or leave them overnight so that they have time to destroy germs. Disinfectants tend to be slightly stronger than sanitisers.

If you ever drop a tool on the ground during an appointment, you cannot pick it up and use it on the client without cleaning and sanitising it first! Practising good hygiene and sanitation keeps everyone safe and will also help your reputation. You must clean and sanitise after each client and then allocate time at the end of each day to clean your floors, bins, tools and any frequently touched surfaces.

Given the rise of viruses spreading, Safe work Australia has excellent guidance for routine cleaning in response to viruses but can be applied in your daily setting. The guide linked below explains which sanitation method to use in terms of detergent (cleaning) and disinfectant for different materials and depending on how frequently they have been touched.

Infection Control

Now that you have a general understanding of keeping your clients safe through using effective sterilisation and sanitation methods, we can now delve deeper into some specific requirements for infection control. As you have already learned, proper hygiene practices are critical for stopping the spread of infections and diseases. Depending on where you are operating your business and the services you are offering, there may also be additional processes and permits that you need to obtain to provide specific services.

In Australia, each State and Territory has different laws and requirements that govern beauty services. In particular, any service that is deemed to have ‘skin penetration’ involved, will have specific compliance requirements which go beyond the general WHS legislative requirements you have already learned about. Additionally, some local councils also require you to hold specific permits if you plan on performing services that fall into ‘skin penetration’ category.

When you think of skin penetration, you may be thinking of cosmetic tattooing or acupuncture, and you would be correct! So why does this legislation matter to you? Some States and Territories also categorise services such as nail enhancements, waxing and lash services as skin penetration. The reason for this, is that they have a higher degree of risk due to exposure to blood, bodily substances and bacterial infections.

So, what does this mean for you? If you plan on opening your own business or working for yourself, you will need to make sure that you are aware of all of the legal requirements that apply to the services you want to offer and ensure that you hold the required permits or registrations according to your location of operation. Below are some important links regarding infection control for all States and Territories in Australia:

State or TerritoryLinks to applicable legislation Links to guidance information
ACTPublic Health Act 1997Infection Control office practices and other community based services
NSWPublic Health Act 2010 Public Health Regulation 2022Skin penetration resources
NTPublic and Environmental Health Regulations 2014Public and Environmental Health Guidelines for Hairdressing, Beauty Therapy and Body Art
QLDPublic Health (Infection Control for Personal Appearance Services) Act 2003What business needs to know about personal appearance services
SASouth Australian Public Health Act 2011Guidelines on the Safe and Hygienic Practice of Skin Penetration (PDF 431KB)
TASPublic Health Act 1997About infection prevention and control
VICPublic Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019Notices about scope of registration and client information sheets Cosmetic application including eyelash tinting and spray tanning: Procedure specific requirements
WAHealth (Skin Penetration Procedures) Regulations 1998Code of Practice for Skin Penetration Procedures 1998

While each State/Territory may have different ways of categorising and risk assessing beauty services; the commonalities across all are having high levels of hygiene in the following areas:

  • Equipment
  • Premises
  • Personal

In terms of major variances, each State/Territory has different requirements for:

  • Permits and registration
  • Record keeping

In addition to legislation, there are a range of Australian and New Zealand Standards which also provide information relating to procedures, guidelines and specifications to help ensure services are safe. While not mandatory, these standards help to standardise the way businesses do things.

Depending on the guidance material available in your State/Territory, you may have already seen references to a few standards. Examples of standards that apply to the beauty industry include, but are not limited to:

  • Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4815-2001 Office-based health care facilities not involved in complex patient procedures and processes-Cleaning, disinfecting and sterilising reusable medical and surgical instruments and equipment, and maintenance of the associated environment
  • Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4187-2003 Cleaning, Disinfecting and Sterilising reusable medical and surgical instruments and maintenance of associated environments in health care facilities
  • Australian Standard AS 2182-1998 Sterilisers – Steam – Benchtop (AS 2182:1998)

Australian Standards are available at: www.standards.org.au. If you are just starting out in business, it is likely that you won’t have access to full copies of the AS/NZS catalogue as you do have to purchase them, however, you can usually find extracts online. As an example, the below PDF contains an extract that outlines sterilisation requirements for skin penetration items outlined in (AS/NZS 4815:2001):

Legislative requirements do change, COVID-19 was a great example of that, so it is important that you keep yourself up to date with what you need to comply with if you plan on running your own business at both a State/Territory and Local level. As you have already learned, it is important that you keep up to date with legislation and requirements because ‘not knowing’ is not a reasonable defence. The fact sheet provided is by no means legal advice, and we recommend that you speak to your local council, the regulator in your State/Territory or a legal professional so that they can provide you with tailored information specific to your individual circumstances.

Additional hygiene rules to remember include:

1Always wash your hands and use sanitising spray between clients
2Use clean towels for every client and wash towels at a minimum of 60°C
3Tie long hair back
4Wear short sleeved garments
5Remove jewellery
6Fingernails should be short and clean
7Have all metal tools soaked in Barbicide for at least 20 minutes
8Use disposable equipment where possible
9Dispose of waste correctly
10Use disposable implements to decant products from containers
11Never “double dip” back into the product (causes cross contamination)
12Spray work surfaces with sanitising fluid between clients

If you are interested in learning more about sanitation, read the articles linked below:

Material Safety Data Sheets

When you are working with products, chemicals, and equipment that you are not familiar with, it is important that you read the labels and any material safety data sheets that apply. A material safety data sheet (MSDS, or sometimes just safety data sheet SDS) is an important document that provides information about hazardous chemicals. An MSDS will include the following information:

  • Ingredients and chemical classifications
  • Handling and storage requirements
  • Medical information, including emergency responses
  • How to dispose of the chemical

If you haven’t received an MSDS with your products or chemicals, then contact your supplier and request that they send them to you. It is critical that you understand all of the requirements for the safe and effective use of any product or chemical you use. The best way to understand MSDS is to read some for yourself! There are several MSDS for a range of products and chemicals linked as well as a link to more information about MSDS which can be found on the Safe Work Australia website:

If you are interested in learning more about sanitation, read the articles linked below:

Now that you have read several MSDS, can you now see how important they are? They have loads of useful information and will always indicate any safety risks and requirements. In the Nail Artistry Premium Acrylic Powder MSDS example, you can see that the MSDS has information relating to:

  • Identification of the material and supplier
  • Hazard identification
  • Composition and ingredients
  • First-aid measures
  • Firefighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/PPE
  • Physical and chemical properties

Along with SDS for chemical products, most suppliers have datasheets for their equipment as well. You should always have copies of all of your SDS for any products you use and take specific note of the safety and first aid requirements. While major accidents and contra-actions are rare, if the reaction is severe, copies of the SDS and any product packaging should be provided to the medical facility so that they know exactly what they are working with. Unfortunately, some countries have very relaxed regulations for cosmetics, so always be careful if you are buying products from overseas.

Your own safety

As covered previously, WHS requires you to not only keep your clients safe, but you must also keep yourself safe! Hygiene, sterilisation and sanitation keep everyone safe, and for your own personal safety, there are three key areas that you need to be aware of:

Ergonomics and body position

As a nail technician, you will be using your hands and arms all day, and you will often be bending down and manoeuvring your body to complete manicure and pedicure tasks. In turn, the way your work area is set up throughout your services is equally important.

Key phrase | Ergonomics: the process of designing or arranging your treatment area, products and systems so that they meet your specific needs.

No two work areas will ever be set up the same because we all have different needs. People who are taller may be able to store certain products at a further distance than those of us who are shorter. If you need to use a step or a ladder to reach items that you use regularly, you are adding additional risk where there doesn’t need to be!

To set up your workspace ergonomically, you need to think about the space you are working within and the sorts of products, tools, and equipment you use frequently and less frequently. Unless you are blessed with a huge treatment area with loads of storage space and working space, you will need to strategically think about where everything needs to be placed. Ergonomics also includes factors such as:

  • The height of equipment
  • The weight of products, heavy products should be stored lower to the ground
  • Your body position and posture
  • Proper ventilation
  • Correct lighting
  • Minimal noise
  • Correcting handling techniques for tools, lifting objects and using products

The ergonomic requirements for an office would be different to those of your nail treatment area. However, there are similarities. When working at a computer, you need to consider where your monitor is positioned, how far away from the keyboard you are, and the brightness of your screen. Likewise, as a nail technician, you need to position yourself comfortably, with your tools in easy reach and ensure that you are comfortable performing each task. You may want to invest in armrests to provide you and your client with additional support. Additionally, make sure you have a comfortable chair or stool to work on!

Some tips to consider when setting up your workspace:

  1. Move and stretch often. Movement is essential to keep our muscles from stiffening, so look at alternating tasks to break repetition and make time to do your stretches!
  2. Wear comfortable, supportive and sensible footwear at all times.
  3. Make sure you have adequate ventilation to look after your clients and your own health. Inhaling chemicals and dust all day is not good for you long term.
  4. Hard flooring is a killer for when you are on your feet all day, especially polished cement. Try and use floor mats where possible to give you some added support.

You also need to make sure that your client areas are ergonomically set up. If the treatment area is too small, it may cause you to get into weird body positions. Be sure to think about the amount of space you will need to complete a service safely. If you would like to learn more about ergonomics, access the resources linked:

If you would like to learn more about ergonomics, access the resources linked:

If you don’t look after your own health, your career will end before you know it. If, for any reason, you start to feel sore in any areas or if your eyes feel tired, you need to think about how your work area is set up. Of course, when we start out as Nail technicians, we may not be able to do more than a couple of clients a day.

As your skills develop and your body gets used to the various positions, you will develop muscle strength and will be able to increase your contact time. If you feel tired and sore in the beginning, do not push through, it is not worth it! Make sure you take breaks, have a restful sleep and seek medical attention for any pain that does not subside.

Equipment use

In addition to ergonomics, you also need to ensure that you are safely using your equipment. If you misuse your e-drill, it could result in some serious damage. You also want to make sure that when you are using anything with a power source, that there is no contact with fluids. Electricity and water can be a dangerous combination, so if there are accidental spills of any kind, let’s say you knock over your acrylic monomer onto your dust extractor fan, then you should not use the equipment until it has sufficient time to dry. Accidents like this are rare, so use your common sense to manage any unforeseen issues with equipment.

Protective equipment

In addition to using disposables, personal protective equipment (PPE) may also be required in your role. In recent times, there have also been additional PPE requirements in response to contagious viruses, and these changes will likely become the norm in years to come.

PPE that you will likely need to have on hand will include, but will not be limited to:

  • Disposable face mask
  • Disposable gown
  • Face shields
  • Hair covers
  • Gloves to reduce skin on skin contact

When there is no legal requirement for PPE, you should still select any PPE that you feel will protect you while at work. For example, having a comfortable chair will be essential in your role as you will be sitting down for most of the day. There are lots of suppliers that stock PPE for nail technicians, and you will likely find that PPE used for hairdressers, beauty salons and other cosmetic industries will be suitable for your use as well. Some companies even sell PPE packs which can be really handy, and it takes some of the thought out for you!


Maintaining your personal safety also means that you need to develop effective self-care practices. Self-care can mean different things to different people because the way we relax and recharge will be very different. You will have seen in the linked articles earlier that Safe Work Australia outlines requirements for mental health and wellbeing as well. Our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health is paramount for our success in our careers and also in our personal lives.

When you start out as a nail technician, it is a super exciting time, and you will want to practice and refine your techniques at every opportunity. It is important to remember that a healthy balance between work and life must always be a focus for you.

Key phrase | Work-life balance: the equilibrium between your professional life and your personal life, with a good work-life meaning you have congruence between the different aspects of your life.

Working 80 hour weeks is not sustainable for anyone, and as a nail technician, it is not physically possible unless you are willing to compromise your health. If you are planning to work for yourself, you will have the client service side to contend with and also the additional duties of running a small business. If you do not plan your time accordingly and plan for time off, it can become overwhelming and harmful quite quickly!

Having effective self-care strategies in place to ensure you are balancing your responsibilities, making time to connect with others and allowing yourself to rest and have some fun will make you more successful in the long run. When starting out, you will be likely working most evenings and weekends. It is important that you do take time off every now and then so you can live a little! When we are really passionate about something, we can often get tunnel vision and get so focused on achieving what we need to. This can be a great motivator, but it can also lead to increases in stress, health issues and can impact other areas of our life. Self-care is not all about bubble baths, scented candles, Netflix and a block of chocolate! Let’s take a look at some self-care strategies for each area of health:

Self-care areaOverviewExample strategies
PhysicalPhysical self-care relates to how we look after our bodies. If your diet consists of red bull and cigarettes to get you through the day, you will suffer the consequences. Maintaining a healthy diet and undertaking frequent exercise can help to keep our bodies strong. Additionally, keeping hydrated throughout the day and getting enough sleep at night will help us stay on top of our health. 1. Make time each day to go for a walk
2. Plan your meals
3. Take your lunch break!
4. Establish a regular sleep pattern
5. Talk to medical professionals if you feel fatigued
SocialHumans are social creatures, and while you may not want to talk to anybody after a long day at work, making time to see friends, family, and other connections is so important for our health and wellbeing. All small business owners do have to make sacrifices from time to time, and frequent nightclubbing on a Friday night may not be an option for you if you have clients booked on your Saturday’s! However, you should be careful not to let your work take up all your time – save some for you mates as well.1. Schedule time to spend with your friends
2. Take up a hobby which involves others
3. Join online nail technician communities
4. Take a weekend off every month and 5. plan your annual leave
6. Make time for activities you really enjoy doing
MentalMental health can be tricky because we can’t always see when something is wrong. When you have a physical injury, it is clear to you and everyone else that the injury is there. Mental health issues can also develop slowly over time, and you yourself may not even be aware there is a problem the problems becomes serious.1. Take time out away from electronics, people and other stimuli
2. Reduce stressors where possible
3. Seek help if you are struggling
SpiritualWhether you are religious, a spiritualist, an atheist or other denomination, looking after your spiritual wellbeing is an important part of self-care, which is often overlooked. All of us have a set of morals, values and beliefs, and we are constantly learning and evolving with each new experience. It is important as we go through life that we have the opportunity to reflect, see how far we have come and have a greater understanding of the world around us.1. Engage with spiritual/religious practices that you find fulfilling
2. Make time to reflect on your lived experiences
3. Share and discuss your experiences with others
4. Learn about other people and their values, beliefs and experiences
EmotionalLike mental health, emotional health can sometimes go undetected, and a build-up of emotions can result in extreme reactions. I think it has happened to all of us at some point when you may have found yourself getting really angry or upset over something minor. Usually, it is not the minor problem that is the issue; it is a build-up of emotions that have not been recognised or released in a healthy way.1. Learn how to identify and be comfortable with your emotions
2. Talk to others to help you process your emotions
3. Express your feelings, don’t suppress them!

These strategies are just examples. You will have your own unique ways of relaxing, grounding yourself and looking after your health and wellbeing. If you want to watch some trashy TV to relax, or drink a green smoothie or read a good book, it is completely up to you! Balance and variety will be important for you to stick with whichever self-care strategies you choose.

It can be extremely easy to neglect our own health when we are busy, but you should never be so busy that your health suffers. If you continue to ignore your health and the warnings in favour of getting work completed, you will likely have more time out of work in the end because the more serious the health issue is, the more extreme and lengthier the treatment options will likely be. Early intervention and treatment are key!

If you would look like to learn more about self-care and other strategies you might find useful, access the resources linked:

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