In 1999 and 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) surveyed two body piercing establishments in the United States. The results of the study indicated that practices employed by body piercers and tattoo artists expose them to blood-borne pathogens, such as the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and other potentially infectious hazards, such as possibly contaminated body fluids like saliva, at a significantly higher rate than the general public.
Results like those NIOSH obtained reinforced the necessity of rules and regulations to ensure the safety of professional body artists and those they come into contact with, including family members and customers. Although policies vary from state to state--and not even all states have local guidelines--the tattoo industry is regulated at the federal level according to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.
Bloodborne Pathogens Standard
The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard went into effect on December 6, 1991. It was OSHA's response to healthcare employees' concerns regarding the lack of existing standards at that time for emergencies related to workers' exposure to numerous blood-borne pathogens. OSHA's standard protects individuals in relevant occupations, such as healthcare and body art, by requiring employers to establish a detailed Exposure Control Plan that either prevents or decreases employees' exposure to blood-based agents capable of causing disease.
Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act
Following the passage of the federal law called the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act on November 6, 2000, the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard was amended to include new requirements of employers. The revisions mandate the use of safer needles, employee participation in selecting such devices, and the maintenance of documentation on incidents of employee exposure to contaminated needles.
State and City Regulation
Tattooing is legal in all states as of 2006, but many states and cities have passed legislation that goes beyond issues the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard covers and that applies to tattoo establishments within their jurisdiction. Common rules stipulate who can legally get and give tattoos, whether tattooists must be licensed, which state or local agency oversees tattoo establishments, and whether or when inspections are required. For example, unemancipated minors are prohibited from getting tattoos in all but a few states like Idaho, which does require written parental consent, however.
Tattoos are considered permanent body marks, regardless of the availability of often painful laser removal. Therefore, people intent on getting one should choose a tattoo establishment with an excellent reputation. Also research any specific local rules that apply, such as on the state health department's website, and thoroughly inspect the tattoo establishment before the procedure to ensure it's sanitary.
Things to expect at all times to avoid infection include an artist who washes his hands and wears intact sterile gloves, disinfected work spaces, individually wrapped disposable needles, reusable equipment properly sterilized in an autoclave, new ink jars opened for each customer, and biohazard containers available to dispose of used and potentially contaminated products.