Some tattoo artists are in serious pain and there's little they can do about it

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 12:05:50-04

If you get hurt on the job, most of us have workers' comp in place, protecting us from paying out of pocket for expenses.

However, in one occupation, workers are suffering and there isn’t much they can do about it: Tattoo artist.

A meaningful symbol, or a work of art, no matter what you get, tattoo artists are ready to create, but it comes at a cost.

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"It's can be really involved," said Dustin Nowlin, a tattoo artist at West Anchor Tattoo Parlor on Brookpark Road.

Nowlin has been tattooing for more than 15 years and says most people entering the profession underestimate the wear and tear it takes on the body.

“They get in this career, really young and have no idea what the toll is going to be on their body," he said. 

He's not the only one taking note.

Aches and pains

Ohio State University researchers found in a recent study that chronic aches and pains are universal among all artists and it's often overlooked.

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“It's kind of one of those things that come with the territory," said Nowlin.

Carpal tunnel, pinched nerves, and, most commonly, back pain are just some of the chronic issues they suffer from.

“You're sitting all day. Your knees are kind of in an unnatural state, very bent. You’re hunched over. The longer you do it, that's really where the chronic pain comes from," Nowlin said.

What's more alarming is here in Ohio, tattoo artists are typically not given workers' comp for the pain caused on the job, and many do not even have insurance.

“There's not a lot of discussions when tattooers regularly meet up like ‘hey what's your insurance?’ It’s kind of like the blind leading the blind sometimes," Nowlin said.
Get covered

Workers' comp attorney Brandon Duber with Bentoff Duber Law Firm explained there is a loophole.

“The courts will look at a whole bunch of different factors such as can you come and go as you please? Do you work your own hours? Who's equipment do you use?" he said.

If that does not apply, though, he advises artists to seek it out themselves, separate from health coverage.

“The best thing to do is to go, in fact, sign up for workers' comp for your own company," he said.

But because of the high expense and fluctuating earnings, Nowlin says, for now, he's just going to stick with trying to be proactive about his health, hoping his problems don't get worse.

“I try to stay physical, you have to build up a sort of resistance and resiliency on your body," he said.

Workers' comp varies from state to state. Some states allow independent contractors like tattoo artists to qualify under certain requirements.

MORE: Ohio Workers' Comp Information

MORE: See Dustin Nowlin's work on Instagram @elite.laurel