Safety Glasses in the Shop

The owner gets advice as a new eye protection rule creates a labor-management dynamic in a woodshop. August 27, 2009

At the beginning of the year I gave my employees the first month to develop the habit of wearing safety glasses at all times while on the clock in the shop. Have any of you experienced headaches as a result of wearing safety glasses for an 8 hour shift? Two of the guys are having difficulty wearing safety glasses all day. I have worn glasses for hours and hours, day after day, with little side effect. What types of safety glasses would reduce eye strain and fatigue?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
10 years ago I worked at a company that required safety glasses for all employees while in the plant. When I left, the rule had been in place for 5 years, and no new hires ever complained - only those hired previous to the rule. There was a lot of griping and grumbling about it at first, complaints about headaches, eye strain, etc., but management stood firm. The complaints went away after the employees understood that management wasn't going to go back on its rule.

From contributor S:
Your employees are testing you. They are trying to tell you how to run your company. Don't let your employees run your company. If they complain about wearing safety equipment, they need to find a new career.

From contributor R:
I have been in this business for over ten years, and I still have problems with blurred vision and headaches from safety glasses. What they are complaining of may be a legitimate concern. That said, they need to find glasses that minimize the headaches and problems. I found that the curvature of many common safety glasses was the cause of most of my problems. If they get away from the trendy glasses and go back to something like the older UVEX styles, they will have fewer problems.

From contributor E:
I have never had a headache due to wearing safety glasses. I tend to think that people don't want to wear them for vane reasons. I agree with the others that it is a requirement to wear safety glasses in a shop environment. In addition to an internal requirement, I know that in many cases the government will require people to wear safety glasses. It is not a choice; it is a requirement. I do not know why a guy would want to lose his eyesight for vanity's sake, but when they are in my shop, they wear eyeglasses.

From contributor S:
Have the employees provide their own safety glasses that meet or exceed the OSHA requirements. Have the company reimburse the employees up to X amount of dollars towards their first purchase only. Have the employees turn in receipts for reimbursement along with all literature that comes with the safety glasses. Make sure the safety glasses meet or exceed the OSHA requirements.

Have extra safety glasses (of your choice) that meet or exceed the OSHA requirements on hand at all times. Try to choose safety glasses that will encourage your employees to have the safety glasses they purchased on them at all times... Think, "I will only wear these if I have no other option." By using this method, your employees will never "forget" their safety glasses more than once.

Strictly enforce this policy. Not wearing safety glasses is not an option.

From contributor N:
We offer several different glasses to our people. Some people with large heads get pinching on the temples, and others on the bridge of the nose. No safety glasses fit everyone, so have a few options.

From contributor J:
Just wanted to echo what contributor R said - it's all about the curve of the lenses. I had problems with this for a couple years before I figured it out. The flatter the lens, the better.

From contributor G:
I have worn glasses all my life. Get ones from a real optician. They sell quality lenses and sturdy frames in a good variety. Some with side shields. They will provide them prescription ground. Trying to wear safety goggles over regular glasses provides too many reflective surfaces. They will also see to it that they fit and that the lenses (or unground blanks) are centered over the pupils, which will avoid headaches. Good opportunity to require employees to have eyes tested... not a bad idea from time to time.

From contributor H:
Hold your ground. It is good policy. However, cheap glasses can indeed cause headaches, etc. Be willing to spend money to keep high quality glasses on hand and consider the reimbursement option as well. This is pretty much what I've done in our shop.

I have worn glasses for years now. Bifocals with correction for bench height distance and minimal correction for long distance. These give me no trouble at all. However, I have used cheap safety glasses that caused a headache due to either poor plastic lenses or improper fit causing pressure on the temples.

I don't doubt that there is resistance to the new policy, but can't rule out genuine problems either.

From contributor M:
I guess your guys are in the wrong trade if they are not able to wear safety glasses. Make sure they are fitted properly. If they still complain, they probably are not worth keeping. They will change their minds when they find out how long the unemployment line is. Safety glasses, ear plugs (muffs), steel toe boots are an absolute must.

From contributor L:
At times I get headaches from wearing safety glasses. Usually I get them when I am wearing glasses and protection headphones at the same time. They press against my head and they hurt. I am self-employed and wear them religiously.

From contributor I:
You can get optical quality safety glasses from Sam's Club Optical for around $70.00. Meet OSHA requirements and have no optical distortion. Can also be furnished with prescription lenses for the same money. I feel naked without mine. I am not even sure how someone can or would want to work at a saw or shaper with naked eyes.

From contributor W:
I would say you have a legal responsibility to provide or reimburse (to a limit) for glasses that don't give people headaches. In practice, that just means getting samples from your supplier of the many available glasses out there, and trying them until your crew settles on one or two models that everyone can live with.

From contributor D:
I believe you're sending a clear message. Behavior like you're speaking of is only the tip of an iceberg of control and manipulation that needs to be dealt with immediately. Either use eye safety as required, or move on.

From contributor U:
I have dealt with this same problem for 30 years, and have implemented safety glasses policy in more than one shop over that time. The same complaints have been voiced every single time.

The best solution I have found is to provide the option of folks selecting the style of glasses they want from your supplier's catalog, and then making them wear them. If they have had continued problems with headaches, I have strongly urged them to have their eyes examined professionally. In many of these cases, they actually needed corrective lenses and were not aware of it, or simply ignored it.

I have also found that if you enforce the policy consistently and continuously, you will eventually wear them down. Besides, a headache is better than losing an eye.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for your responses. I have allowed the guys to pick out any safety glasses and have purchased for them two or three different kinds. I know that it is my responsibility as a manager to set up timelines (to allow the guys to adapt to change) and then strictly enforce the policy uniformly, with no exception. The end result will be a unified front from management that safety will be taken seriously and it is for each employee's own good.

From contributor A:
I was starting to work one morning in my shop, and thought that the safety glasses that I normally wear were getting old. I opened a new pair and proceeded to begin work. I cut 3 boards and had my first workshop accident. I am normally very safety aware, but it only took a split second to change that record. A 36" red oak board about 5" wide came in contact with the back of the table saw blade and kicked back into my right eye. The corner of the board hit the new glasses so hard that it rounded off the corner, like being dropped onto the cement floor. It gouged out a chunk of the new glasses and shoved the glasses into my eye socket. The injury required 5 stitches. I have no adverse affects now and am very thankful for the safety glasses.

I require glasses to be worn at all times and will continue to enforce this requirement. If you would like to show them a picture of safety glasses saving an eye, and want to imagine what the eye would be like without them, email me and I will send you a very nasty looking eye injury picture.

From contributor F:
I've been trying out different brands myself over the years including a couple Uvex, and find that all the plastic ones I've tried so far mess with my vision to some degree or other. I wear glasses whenever I'm on a machine, but if I'm doing layout work, I have to take them off, as I cannot focus as well on details. I've been thinking about something more like a prescription ground lens and maybe that will help. But I just thought I'd echo that plastic lenses do distort your vision to some degree or other and different people will react differently to them. I never got a headache from wearing them, but then again I've never tried to wear them for 8 hours straight.

From contributor C:
I'm a bench rest rifle shooter and find that clear shooting glasses work fine. Check out a Cabellas catalog and you will find quite a selection. I tried the tinted yellow glasses but didn't really care for them in a shop environment.

From contributor S:
Wearing safety glasses is not something that you need to set up timelines for to allow your employees to "adapt to change." It may take your employees some time to find the pair of safety glass they are most comfortable with, but they can adapt to wearing safety glasses in a matter of seconds, not minutes or hours and certainly not days, weeks or months.

The phrase "safety first" is used because it is the first thing you need to do, not the last. I have a friend who just lost two fingers on his dominant hand because he didn't think "safety first." He was cutting a board on the table saw and instead of changing the setup to make the next cut a safer cut, he said to himself, "I know this is not the safest way to make this cut, but I'll just use the current setup and get the cut done faster." A moment later he watched as the sawblade amputated his thumb and index finger... permanently.

Employees who rebel against company policy need to be dealt with swiftly. If you don't, you will quickly find out that you are no longer in control of your company.

I saw this firsthand when I was working for a national closet organization company. I was hired to manage their installation department. I was told by the owners that the department had been mismanaged for a very long time and they wanted me to institute change to clean up the mess. Within my first week it was crystal clear what the real problem was. The installers were telling the owners what policies they were and were not going to follow. This, however, was not the real problem. The real problem was the owners were allowing this behavior to continue.

For years and years before I arrived the owners had not once corrected this behavior or terminated the employment of a single installer even though the installers were blatantly sabotaging installation to "show management" who had the "power." At a management meeting I presented the owners with concrete evidence proving which of the installers were sabotaging the company and causing a loss of profit of "X" amount of dollars. I recommended the saboteurs' employment be terminated immediately. The other 6 department heads at the meeting backed my recommendation. The two owners decided not to terminate the saboteurs because "the other installers might not agree with the firing." Shortly after that management meeting I started my own company.

Heed the early warning signs and don't let your company head down this path of destruction, because the road to recovery can be very long and hard.

From contributor O:
I came up in the trades when few wore any type of safety gear for eyes or ears (except those in larger enterprises or union shops). The only headache I've had from safety glasses came from not wearing them and having a piece of acrylic fly off the table saw blade at 100mph and bounce off my left eye. I wear eye protection all the time now.

From contributor X:
When I had a shop in the eighties, we came up with a scheme to get the guys to wear both eye and ear protection. A small monthly bonus was offered (I think $20) if they would wear the eye protection all the time, and the ear stuff when operating any power tool. The catch was, there would be surprise inspections. We schooled our office assistant to make about three or four pop inspections a week. She had to step into the shop with a certain clip board and a sheaf of forms with a checklist that was for that use only, and scan the group for an instant assessment. The guys all knew what the deal was whenever they saw the clipboard. I think a "gotcha" cost a $5 chop off the bonus. She loved the power trip. It was for a limited time, I think a year, but was pretty effective. Ironically, our old timer had spent a lifetime around the machines and was nearly deaf, but in fairness, we could not make exceptions even though he had little use for the ear plugs. He was a guy that knew a dollar and kept those plugs in those dead ears like a religion.

From contributor Y:
How can anyone not want to protect themselves? It just blows my mind when (even on TV) you see guys running tools without eye or ear protection. How about the guys on those "cool" garage car makeover shows that run body grinders showering sparks everywhere, but they are too cool to wear glasses or earplugs? I get so used to the plugs that I sometimes answer the phone with them still in. Doesn't solve the problem of enforcing the rule, but lust needed to rant about it. Your shop, your rules... Oh, and that little organization called OSHA.

From contributor Q:
This is a no option case. I wear prescription safety glasses. Everybody who enters my shop wears safety glasses. I have about 6 different styles and users are free to choose the one that they find most comfortable, but they will wear one of them or exit the shop immediately. No timelines - no debate.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor N:
I am a woodworker and a retired optician. I would suggest that you contact an independent optician, talk to him about the problem of vision problems with safety glasses, and strike a deal with him to outfit your office with optical quality safety frames and lenses. It's a win, win, win situation. He would be happy to get the business (I'm sure that he might also be able to barter with you for some fine wooden pieces for his optical store). Your people would be able to see better, and work safer, as well as ease tensions and possible negative actions in the shop.