'Undercover' volunteer teenage girls helping HSE stamp out 'rogue' sun-bed operators

'Undercover' volunteer teenage girls helping HSE stamp out 'rogue' sun-bed operators
File photo of a woman on a sunbed.

By Gordon Deegan

‘Undercover’ volunteer teenage girls are helping the HSE stamp out the number of ‘rogue’ operators selling sun-bed sessions to minors.

New figures from the HSE show that it last year ramped up its enforcement activity in the sun-bed industry deploying under-age teenagers - mainly girls - on 47 ‘test purchase inspections’.

This resulted in five operators found selling sun-bed sessions to teenagers under 18 and this compared to 25 test inspections by HSE deployed teens aged between 15 and 17 uncovering six operators selling sun-bed sessions to minors in 2016.

In total, the HSE state that over the past three years, it has recorded 69 infringements by sun bed operators selling sun-bed sessions to under age teens.

The figures show that there were 13 infringements last year and this followed 17 in 2016 and 39 in 2015.

The HSE states that it regards the primary purpose of its Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014 as the protection of minors and it states that the main evidence of the success of the legislation can be seen in the reduction in non-compliant test purchasing inspections where the overall test purchasing activity has increased.

The sun-bed laws were only introduced four years ago and the HSE statistics provided to Fine Gael TD, Kate O’Connell arising from a written Dáil question show that over the three years, sun-bed operators have made 111 infringements relating to bogus health claims from sun-bed sessions.

According to a HSE spokesperson, examples of the health claims that resulted in non-compliances include ‘this sunbed is s safer way of tanning’; ’Get more Vit D’and ‘Vit D for your life’.

The overall number of infringements last year totalled 315 across a range of categories and this was a 37% decline on the 502 infringements recorded in 2016. The 2016 total was in turn a 62% drop on the 1,311 infringements recorded in 2015.

A number of sun-bed operators had multiple non-compliances and the number of operators found to be non-compliant last year was 140 compared to 208 in 2016 and 185 in 2015.

The figures show that last year 32 infringements were recorded by sun-bed operators relating to certain marketing practices; 81 infringements relating to ‘prescribed warning signs’ and 73 infringements relating to health information.

According to the HSE spokesperson: “The reduction in overall infringements is indicative of an increase in compliance and understanding of the law and the continued enforcement and advisory activity from the Environmental Health Service."

She said: “While inspection numbers have reduced by a small margin the actual percentage of non-compliance inspection outcomes has reduced from 56% in 2016 to 44% in 2017.”

The HSE spokesperson said that the HSE’s implementation of the legislation with the sunbed industry can be considered a success based on - the continued decrease in recorded infringements since 2015 and the decrease in overall non-compliant inspection outcomes.

The spokesperson also pointed to the high compliance rate with the requirement for a sunbed business operator to notify their business to the HSE annually – where less than 2% failed to notify the HSE in 2017.

She said that the implementation of the legislation by the HSE has been further streamlined with the introduction of an online payment portal to enable electronic notifications and payments.

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