PHOENIX -- The state board charged with regulating beauty salons and those who practice there has "inconsistent" inspection procedures that "put public health at risk," according to a new report.
State Auditor General Debbie Davenport said Thursday that her investigators also found a large percentage of complaint investigations that appeared to be inadequately documented. And she said the board does not always get the information it needs from its own staff to decide on appropriate disciplinary action.
Donna Aune, the executive director of the Arizona Board of Cosmetology, acknowledged the shortcomings, pointing out this is her agency's first review in two decades.
"They made some good suggestions,' Aune said of Davenport's investigators. And she said changes will be made.
But Aune said the agency, which is self-funded through licensing fees, has been hampered by a hiring freeze imposed by the Legislature. The result, she said, is that while she is supposed to have 24.5 employees, lawmakers have allowed her to hire only 17.
Davenport did not address the question of the level of staffing. Instead her report focused on what the law requires the board to do -- and what did not get done.
For example, her investigators reviewed a random sample of 54 salons that were initially licensed during a six-year period and found that 22 of them still had not been initially inspected.
"Board staff were not able to provide specific reasons why these 22 salons had not received an inspected,' she said.
Even in cases where there were inspections, Davenport said it took a median of 218 days after opening to take a look.
"Failure to inspect salons around the time of initially licensure potentially allows licensees to operate out of compliance with laws and regulations and may put the public at risk for unsafe and unsanitary salon conditions,' Davenport wrote. In fact, she said, by the time board inspectors finally did get around to them, two had health and safety violations, including not properly disinfecting and cleaning implements like shears, razors and tweezers.
Some of what the Auditor General's Office found had nothing to do with timeliness of inspections. Instead, Davenport said, the inspections that were performed were not always thorough or done consistently.
"As with the timeliness and frequency of inspections, these inadequate procedures can place public health and safety at risk,' Davenport wrote.
She also questioned how the board responds to specific complaints.
Davenport said her auditors reviewed a random sample of 16 complains and found that half of the investigations "appeared to be inadequate or insufficiently documented.'
For example, she said, sometimes a complaint is about someone who is not licensed performing a procedure that requires licenses.
The ideal way to handle that, Davenport said, would be to have an inspector pose as a client to see if the person would schedule an appointment, and then go to the salon to investigate further. Instead, she said, investigators would simply approach the person and ask about his or her activities.
On a separate front, Davenport suggested that the board work with cosmetologists to get the Legislature to enact continuing education requirements as a condition of license renewals. There is no such mandate now.
Davenport said there are various hazards inherent in cosmetology, including exposure to chemicals and blood-borne illnesses like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS which "place both the licensee and the public at risk for exposure.'
She said while there is initial training on workplace safety and sanitation prior to becoming licensed, there is a need for practitioners to be taught about both new threats and new safety procedures. Davenport said several other states already have such requirements.