Dom Pirro

Artist Dom Pirro welcomed standardized guidelines for PEI’s tattoo parlours which came into effect in February. The common sense rules were developed after extensive consultation with individual tattooists and a provincial inspector. The rules provide protection for both artists and their clients. Kathy Ehman photo

Far from feeling burdened with new rules, Island tattoo artists welcomed Health Canada’s Personal Service Guidelines, implemented in February 2019 to protect the integrity of the industry and the health and safety of customers as well as themselves.

Professional tattooist Dom Pirro and his wife Morgan Rigby moved to PEI two-and-a-half years ago looking for the right place to set up a small parlour. The right place for Atlantic Tattoo was Main Street, Montague. Mr Pirro, originally from Ottawa, also plied his art in Kelowna, BC. They have since celebrated the birth of their daughter Io.

Mr Pirro was already incorporating safe practice guidelines in his work.

“There was a lot of demand from professional artists on the Island,” he said, calling for standardized rules.

Mr Pirro is the owner and sole artist at Atlantic Tattoo. He takes customers by appointment only because he doesn’t want either he or his clients distracted by walk-ins and phone calls.

“If you’re getting a tattoo you want to feel you have the artist’s full attention.”

Mr Pirro appreciated the personal consultations with PEI Environmental Health Officer Tanya O’Brien, as she visited tattoo parlours and individuals across the province.

“She was not being overbearing. They just want to make sure everyone is doing a good job and not accidentally hurting anyone.”

The guidelines can be enforced under the Public Health Act if an infraction results in harm to the public, but Ms O’Brien said if no harm has been caused the operator will be given the opportunity to fix a problem without summary fines or penalties.

“I’m really proud of our program and our operators and what we have produced together,” Ms O’Brien said.

There are no hard and fast rules governing the location of a tattoo parlour, which Mr Pirro said can be in a room in your house as long as the right precautions are in place. Foremost, is to guard against blood borne pathogens, such as AIDS and Hepatitis C.

“Getting a tattoo from somebody who is unprofessional could be as dangerous as sharing needles (for drug injections) or having unprotected sex with a stranger,” Mr Pirro said.

He must maintain a (human) blood borne pathogens certificate, to educate and protect those who may come into contact with infected blood.

“It is a job with a risk. You’re working with blood. You have to know what the risks are, what are the precautions, what to do if you stab yourself or someone else with a needle that may have come in contact with contaminated blood.”

Customers are asked to indicate any kind of blood disease they have on a consent form before the tattooing begins.

“A lot of people don’t even know if they do have something so you have to treat them all the same. Assume the risk is there and take the necessary precautions.”

Mr Pirro has annul blood tests to be sure he hasn’t contacted something he could need treatment for or transmit.

“Having a family at home, if I transferred something to my wife or daughter it would be devastating.”

Being under the umbrella of the new guidelines makes good business sense as well, he said. It assures customers the shop is safe and indicates the tattooist can be expected to produce professional body art.

Someone who sees a poorly executed or tasteless tattoo, or who is afraid of the risk of an infection or disease, is not ever going to be a customer, despite the surge in the popularity of the art form, he explained.

“Poor operators can give the whole industry a bad name.”

Mr Pirro works with high quality, disposable needles and other materials rather than installing a sterilizing autoclave, which would cost around $4,000. Disposables create more waste but ensure him his materials are sterile.

Enthusiasm for body art has “exploded” since around 1990 as a personalized form of self expression, Mr Pirro said.

“I can wear a part of myself on my skin that isn’t necessarily explained in words but more of an emotion. It’s another form of communication.”

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