Fact or fiction?
Warm, sunny day. Patron in distress. Lifeguard grabs a rescue
board. After launching the board, the lifeguard cries out in pain.
Within moments, other lifeguards realize they must now rescue not
only the patron, but the lifeguard as well.
Fact: Lifeguards have, indeed, avulsed body jewelry during the
course of rescue operations. The pain and shock associated with
traumatic avulsion (separation by force) has even required that the
lifeguards themselves be rescued.
The general rule is, if you can pinch it, you can pierce it.
According to a recent study done at Pace University in New York, 51
percent of undergraduate students have something pierced and, of
those, 17 percent suffer medical problems via infection and tears.
(The authors feel that their study, while limited to Pace students,
offers “a diverse and representative sample” of U.S.
collegiate students, while also recommending additional
Youth Studies Australia states that one-third of the population in
Australia over 14 years of age has some kind of piercing. While not
always noticeable in the business setting, body jewelry becomes
apparent among lifeguards.
Risks associated with piercings vary according to the tissue
pierced. Similarly, healing times vary. Factors that affect healing
include lack of air flow, body fluid accumulation, presence of
sebaceous glands and friction from close-fitting clothing.
Earlobes generally heal in as little as six weeks, while navel
piercings can take from six to 12 months. During this time,
piercings, like fresh tattoos, are considered open wounds. As with
all open wounds, persons should be excluded from entering the
water. Therefore, freshly pierced lifeguards should not be assigned
patron surveillance duties, even though the risks of infection in a
properly treated pool should be minimal.
|Body Part||General Healing Time||Risk of Infection||Risk of Avulsion||Health Risk or Concern|
|Ear Lobe||6-8 weeks||Low||High||Little pain. Heals quickly.|
|High Ear||3-12 months||Moderate||Moderate||Cartilage, poor healer.|
|Nostril||2-4 months||Very High||Moderate||Scarring, keloids, abscesses.|
|Nasal Septum||4-8 months||High||Unknown|
|Nasal Bridge||8-10 weeks||Low||Low|
|Eyebrow||6-9 weeks||Low||Varies||Barbells snag less than rings. Often rejected.|
|Lip||2-3 months<</span>||Moderate||High||Leaves a mark when jewelry removed.|
|Labret||4-8 weeks||Moderate||High||Leaves a mark when jewelry removed.|
|Nipple||3-6 months||Moderate||Moderate to High||Some nipple rings twist with arousal. Must be pierced
above center of nipple because of concern about penetrating
|Navel||4-12 months||High||High||Difficult to heal.|
|Scrotum||8 weeks||High||High||Not for bike riders. Must wear pad for healing.|
|Outer Labia||6-8 weeks||High||Moderate|
| Ampallang||2-3 months||Low due to urination||User dependent||Cannot heal under foreskin. Cannot remove for one year.|
|Tongue||4-8 weeks||High||Low||Swells vascular.Potential airway obstruction.|
|Clitoris||4-10 weeks|| High|| Low||Professionally controversial.|
|Source: New England
A consistent policy
When developing policies that restrict body jewelry, it is
important to relate the restriction to the essential job functions
of a lifeguard. Examples include positions that exist to perform
certain functions; those that a limited number of other employees
are able to perform; and functions that are highly specialized or
require special training or ability to perform.
For lifeguards, the ability to perform a rescue safely and
effectively should be considered an essential job function.
Restrictions designed to ensure that this function can be carried
out would be considered reasonable.
Similarly, restrictions might be appropriate as safety precautions
designed to minimize the likelihood of workplace injury. All
policies should be developed prior to hire as opposed to in
response to a specific individual’s piercing, and should be
enforced without bias.
If current policies allow earring studs and plain wedding bands,
employers must be careful to restrict other body adornments to
those that likewise follow closely the contour of the body. A
curved barbell in the eyebrow is less likely to snag than a ring,
hoop or straight bar that protrudes from the body. Eyebrow rings
pose a risk when removing rescue tube straps or when working with
small children who may grab indiscriminately.
Employers can institute a policy similar to that of recent drug use
and testing: “Given the public health implications, we will
not hire anybody who has received a new tattoo or piercing in the
past 60 days.” Typically, blood donation is prohibited for
one year after body modifications.
Tongue piercings are never appropriate for lifeguards. Because
jewelry ends can separate, tongue piercings present a choking
hazard. The vascular nature of the tongue, which contains both the
lingual artery and vein, means excessive bleeding even with a very
small injury. Tongue piercings also never fully heal, and are
likely to bleed upon irritation. The tongue swells rapidly
following impact or allergic reaction, which can result in a
tearing injury. Also, the American Dental Association has
documented an increased incidence of dental fractures in patients
with tongue piercings as a result of secondary impact injury. For
these reasons, the ADA has taken a strong position against all
In developing restrictions on body jewelry, employers should
understand that once healed, all jewelry could be safely removed.
Concerns over holes closing are unfounded because people frequently
remove jewelry or wear Lucite retainers, also known as invisible
jewelry, when they wish to conceal the piercing. Invisible jewelry
items are single captive ended and internally threaded. This means
they are more likely to be pushed out or lost upon impact than to
cause a traumatic amputation or avulsion.
Where else is body jewelry regulated? Hospitals regulate jewelry
for staff and patients. Patients are commonly asked to remove all
jewelry before procedures such as MRIs and surgery. The National
Collegiate Athletic Association bans visible jewelry in all sports.
If discovered during the course of the game, penalties are
assessed. The U.S. Armed Forces regulates jewelry both in and out
of uniform. In lifeguard training courses, instructors regularly
ask students to remove all jewelry to reduce the risk of injury
while practicing rescue skills.
Recommendations: Because of the increased risk of injury, all body
jewelry, with the exception of medic alert tags, should be removed
before the start of one’s shift. (Note: The NCAA requires
athletes to tape medic alert tags to their body prior to entering
When creating corporate policies, consider:
- What is reasonable?
- What is the likelihood of injury?
- Could the specific article of jewelry interfere with job