Thursday 26 February 2015

Sheffield Young Advisors and School students have joined forces with Sheffield City Council and the Safeguarding Children Board to raise awareness about the devastating impact illegal tattooists and piercers can have on the lives of young people.

The council’s health protection service and children’s services have been working with the young advisors and students from schools and colleges across the city to develop an educational resource pack to warn young people about the dangers of having tattoos or other body modifications, such as piercings, by someone who is unregulated and unqualified.

The new ‘Scratchers’ pack has taken two years to develop and was launched at Sheffield Futures on Division Street, earlier this week.

The event was attended by young people who used their own knowledge of Scratchers, who usually operate illegal body modification businesses from their own homes, as well as representatives from the council and key partner agencies such as Public Health England.

Councillor Jackie Drayton, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families at Sheffield City Council, said: “In children’s services we recognise how popular tattoo and piercing trends have become. We often see in the media celebrities such as footballers and pop stars with all kinds of tattoo and piercings and the work looks very professional and artistic. Unfortunately, sometimes young people suffer long-term consequences after having a badly done tattoo, or they have developed infections after going to a practitioner who does not operate responsibly, such as a Scratcher.

“We have been working in partnership with the young advisors, the health protection service and a range of professionals, drawing on local expertise from teachers, school nurses and young people to develop this campaign, so that children and young people in Sheffield can receive impartial information about piercing and tattoos and the possible risks.

“In recent years we have seen good progress in improving the way some areas of the body modification industry is regulated, but until there are recognised standards in place for training and qualifications, children and young people may be at risk if they do not know the facts. It’s reassuring that this resource pack will equip teachers and other professionals to deliver key messages to young people about staying safe and being healthy.”

In Sheffield, tattooists and piercing studios have to be registered with the local authority, which means they will be inspected by a health and safety officer to make sure that the studio is clean and hygienic.

However, there are an increasing number of people who are operating illegal tattoo and piercing businesses, usually from their homes. Within the tattooing industry, these people are known as ‘Scratchers’ and usually have no professional training.

There is evidence these businesses are operating in unclean premises, not disposing of used needles correctly and reusing disposable needles. This can lead to blood borne diseases such as hepatitis, HIV and AIDS. In a recent case in the city, a man in his thirties spent two weeks in intensive care suffering from Hepatitis C after having a tattoo done within someone’s home.

Whilst carrying out investigations into these illegal activities officers found that young people were also being exposed to the risks of drugs and violence while visiting the Scratchers’ homes.

Officers from the council’s health and safety enforcement team can use powers under public health legislation to obtain an order that gives them the power to enter an illegal business operated from home, seize and destroy any equipment associated with the illegal tattoo business.

Health and safety officers have to date seized over half a tonne of tattoo equipment from eight illegal premises. Successful prosecutions followed with the illegal tattooists receiving fines from magistrates.

Councillor Jayne Dunn, Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscence, added: “It is important that anyone who is thinking of having a tattoo goes to a registered studio and is not tempted to go to an illegal business where their health could be put at risk. This educational resource pack has been developed in conjunction with young people so the design and messages will really help us get to the heart of this issue and to show youngsters what the consequences of using unregulated Scratchers can have on not just their appearance, but their long-term health too.”

The Scratchers information pack is available from GP surgeries, school nurses and via the Sheffield City Council website www.sheffield.gov.uk/environment/environmental-health/health-and-safety/skin-piercing.html.