Wednesday February 13, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- After two years, the Board of Health continues to fine-tune its body art licensing requirements and hopes a course members helped develop will become a resource for the region.

The board recently clarified the status of tattoo and body piercing apprentices working at established businesses and is taking steps to revise the course, Life Sciences for Body Art, which has been offered at Berkshire Community College.

"How I think about it is we had no regulation [specific to Pittsfield]," and there was the possibility of people "with all different skill levels" working at local businesses, board Chairwoman Roberta "Bobbie" Orsi said.

Board members worked together with practitioners, educators and others to establish a 20-page set of regulations and work out what the board would like to see in a course.

"And we had a wonderful partner in BCC," Orsi said, adding that biology professor Frank Schickor has taught the course at the school and plans to offer it again in the fall.

Schickor recently met with city Health Director Gina Armstrong and Ann Tierney, a board member, to go over possible course revisions and discuss plans for the next class.

Tierney, heavily involved in efforts to establish the program, said the BCC course is intended to ensure all master practitioners have the same basic knowledge concerning health issues tattoo and piercing artists must be familiar with. The course certifies a practitioner for five years, she said, after which a shorter refresher course is required.

The board met last week with Wesley Lamore, owner of Intradermal Design on North Street, to discuss the status of apprentices and other licensing issues. Lamore has an apprentice tattoo artist and had questions about when that person should be required to have a license and pay the annual fee -- and how his status should be determined under the licensing program.

Lamore said he believes the public health safety component could be covered much sooner than the artistic design component, which he would also use as a measure for when the person is ready to work anywhere in the city or establish his or her own business. Covering both aspects normally would take as long as two years, he said.

The health board has determined that an apprentice "would need a sign-off from the Board of Health" in order to begin working with a master practitioner, Tierney said, and after completing the course and other requirements could be eligible for a license.

Board members seemed in agreement last week that they would look to the master practitioners to inform them when an apprentice is ready to be issued a license in his or her name.

Each tattoo or piercing practitioner must hold a license that carries a $100 annual fee, and each establishment also must have a license, also carrying a $100 fee.

Lamore said Monday that "this has been new territory for them [board members] and us over the past two years," as the licensing program developed. The overriding goal, he said, is to ensure "there is a certain level of professionalism" for all those working in the field in the city.

"We don’t want to see people working out of their homes and possibly causing a health threat," Lamore added.

A few of the health-related issues addressed in detail in the board’s regulations include using and maintaining sterilization equipment designed to eliminate blood-borne or other pathogens; identifying and/or accounting for client medical conditions, such as skin infections or chronic ailments like diabetes; proper use of tattooing needles or piercing instruments; specific workplace requirements pertaining to sinks and other fixtures, regulations pertaining to clients under 18 years of age, and proper disposal of medical or biological wastes.

A person under 18 can only receive a tattoo or body piercing if they are with a parent or guardian, who must sign off on the procedure. Youths cannot have branding, scarification or tattooing or piercing of the genitalia under the regulations, and no one may have certain procedures, such as tongue splitting, genital modification or cartilage modification unless performed by a medical doctor.

Stephan A. Lanphear, owner of Lefty’s World Famous Tattoo on Dalton Avenue, said he supports the need for a uniform level of competence and knowledge in the business, but he isn’t sold on the need for a course to be held locally. Lanphear said he was qualified for his license here because of a similar course he took in Quincy, which he believes provided more information.

"For someone new, I think it’s a good thing," he said of the course, but he noted that all of the practitioners working in Pittsfield have now taken it at BCC or otherwise qualified for a license, so the demand might be limited for a few years.

In addition, he said, practitioners also have to take First Aid, CPR and bloodwork pathogens courses through the Red Cross or elsewhere either annually or every two years to remain certified in those areas. "We had to keep up to date on those, which we were," he said, as those requirements are industry standards in most states.

"If this were New York, the numbers would make it easy to justify [the course]," he said, but there are only three studios covered by the program in Pittsfield.

Tierney said the hope is that the course at BCC will continue annually and become a resource for body art practitioners from around the county and the region.

Christine LeBeau, owner of Crazy Chameleon on Tyler Street, who offers body piercing but not tattooing, worked with the board’s study group in developing the program and BCC course. She said she agrees with licensing.

However, LeBeau said the cost of licensing, including the course, studio and practitioner licenses every year, First Aid, blood pathogens and CPR certifications are beginning to add up, particularly when there are two or three artists in a studio.

"This is going to get expensive," she said, adding that she believes health officials should take a look at the overall cost for businesses.