The chief executive of the Australian Hairdressing Association has called on local councils to immediately escalate health and safety awareness campaigns for small businesses that offer “hands-on” hair and beauty services in the wake of the ongoing economic crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus.
Sandy Chong has operated her hairdressing business, Suki Hairdressing, in Newcastle for 35 years, and as chief executive of the industry association, she represents more than 1,000 hairdressing operators, as well as registered training organisations, service providers and suppliers.
As millions of small businesses across the country continue to grapple with how the spread of the coronavirus will affect them — and await formal stimulus measures from the federal government — Chong says the majority of small businesses in the hairdressing and beauty industry operate out of their homes, or are located in areas where they regularly treat passerby trade, and this makes them particularly vulnerable to health and safety risks associated with the virus.
There is also limited regulation of at-home operators with regards to hygiene and health and safety standards, compounding the issue, says Chong, who is also a director of the Council of Small Businesses of Australia.
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“Councils really need to ramp up health and safety and hygiene awareness anywhere where there are hands-on services,” Chong tells SmartCompany.
She also believes there need to be stricter regulations of at-home operators by local governments in relation to hygiene and cleanliness standards.
While Chong says commercial salons must comply with designated standards relating to the types of disinfectants they use and how they clean brushes, for example, and there are examples of at-home operators who apply the same standards to their businesses, there are still many “kitchen operators” who essentially fly “under the radar”.
Chong urges consumers to “be very aware of cash places like that”.
“Paying cash-in-hand is not a recommendation at any time, but particularly now,” she says.
While Chong says her salon has a regular clientele and does not do a large number of walk-in appointments, she has already been ramping up awareness among her staff to ensure everyone continues to follow the correct procedures for sterilising products and wiping down surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectants.
The fact the salon has regular clients means the business also their contact details should they need to get in touch with them about any health concerns. They also make the point of asking for a name and phone number for people who do walk in asking for an appointment.
This is not necessarily the case for salons where walk-in appointments account for a bigger share of business, including beauty bars, nail salons and other operators in the industry, and Chong recommends those businesses adopt the practice as soon as possible.
She also reminds salon operators that they are within their rights to refuse clients who visit their premises while on sick leave from their jobs — a particular problem that plagues the industry.
What would make a difference
Chong says the spread of the coronavirus is adding to an existing list of serious concerns affecting the hairdressing and beauty industry in Australia, which has, like other sectors, been affected by lower discretionary spending in the economy in the aftermath of natural disasters.
At the same time, the industry is staring down the prospect of hairdressing as a profession being removed from the government’s Skills Migration List.
The change is slated for the end of March, and if it goes ahead, hairdressers and barbers across the country say they will be hit with serious staff shortages as hundreds of workers will be forced to leave the country when their visas expire.
But as to what government measures may help the industry starve off the effects of the coronavirus, Chong doesn’t believe relying on a “government handout” is the right answer.
“I think it’s really difficult to know what’s going to happen in one week, what’s going to happen in one month,” she says.
“But you can’t always turn to the government for a handout.”
Chong says if her business was to stop trading, even temporarily, because of the coronavirus, her “cashflow would be completely wiped out”. With 18 employees, it would not be possible for the business to pay sick leave entitlements over an extended period of time.
Financial measures such as payroll tax relief and assistance with paying utility bills could be viable options, says Chong, as well as larger businesses paying small businesses on time.
But, ultimately, Chong believes the way forward will rely more on “communication and collaboration between a number of parties”, including governments.