Getting workers to wear safety eyeglasses at just about any general industry worksite, such as manufacturing plants, isn't easy. But construction sites present an even tougher challenge to ensure compliance. Consider the three main reasons for this:

First, it's an accepted industry practice that general industry sites, especially manufacturing, are 100-percent eye protection facilities. The doors in these establishments leading to production areas are all clearly labeled "Safety Glasses Required Beyond This Point." It is common knowledge to employees, guests and contractors at these sites that you will wear the glasses or you won't be permitted in the production area.

Second, most general industry settings are more structured, and the workforce typically has worked side by side for several years. Many of the workers likely sit on labor/management teams together. While this approach to achieving "common ground" on issues at general industry sites has become prevalent in the past several decades, it is only in the infancy stage in the construction environment in many cities, aside from major public projects.

Finally, a union presence at most construction sites tends to keep up a few barrier walls from implementing safety policies. Unlike a non-union employee who could be fired for not following safety policies and, in turn, be at the unemployment line the next day, the union setting creates an atmosphere where an employee who is let go could end up employed by another union contractor the next day because of workforce sharing. This "golden parachute" can often lead to safety apathy.

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Workers, it seems, will find any excuse for not wearing their safety glasses. The most common ones are:

  • They're not comfortable. Remember the old-style safety glasses: thick wire rims; unadjustable wire temple supports that hugged your ear and gave you a headache within 15 minutes; usually so narrow that they squeezed your head and compounded the headache.
  • They scratch too easy. Unless you get glass lenses, no matter how technically advanced the plastic is, it will scratch.
  • They fog up. One of the biggest complaints from construction workers is that since job site conditions can change in an instant, fogging of safety glasses adds another barrier to workers wearing them when they should.
  • They don't look good. Well, your workers may have a point - those old-style glasses certainly don't do much for appearances.

A new day

But those days are over, and with today's advances in protective eyewear, you should give your workers no excuses for wearing eye protection. Consider some of the improvements:

  • Comfort. All models now rest on the outer ear, and all have arms that adjust in and out (and many adjust up and down, also). Many have cushions not only on the length of the arm but also around the lenses, to gently press against the head. Many come in various sizes to accommodate various face widths.
  • Scratch resistance. Great strides have been made in this area. All the glasses I have previewed are constructed of high-impact, lightweight polycarbonate plastic. Not only is the plastic durable, it has excellent dimensional stability (to minimize distortion) and built-in ultraviolet protection. Many manufacturers also add a special coating to the lenses to make them more scratch resistant.
  • Anti-fog. Again, technology has taken over. Many manufacturers offer a model that can be purchased with an anti-fog coating. Of all the new generation models I've tried, none has caused any fogging problems. Ask your workers for feedback. If one manufacturer's product doesn't live up to its anti-fogging claims, try another.
  • Attractive. All the newer styles look more like fashion sunglasses than something you would wear to protect your eyes. Many have wraparound lenses that eliminate a visible line at the break from the lenses to the side shields. If your workers perform most of their work outside, provide them with tinted lenses. Since they are going to wear sunglasses anyway, you might as well get them something that will protect their eyes if an impact occurs.

Put a new retro-style safety glass on the table next to an older, boxy style pair, and nine times out of ten a worker will reach for the newer style, say they like them without trying them on, and ask a co-worker what they think. So, if you want the workers to actually see the benefits of a more comfortable style that is scratch resistant and doesn't fog up, offer several styles to choose from that all have the same qualities.

Tide is turning

With the help of new, attractive - not to mention highly functional - styles of protective eyewear, the tide seems to be turning in favor of safety compliance. Look through any safety-related magazine and safety glasses steal the show. Not only are the advertisements appealing, but they give you a first-hand preview at how the glasses look.

It's also easier nowadays to get a free trial pair of safety glasses, something that used to be like pulling teeth. If you can't get a complimentary pair directly from the manufacturer, most vendors will be glad to send you several free pairs to try.

Additionally, glasses are relatively inexpensive. Although you can pay between $4.00 and $7.00 for particular name branding, most safety glasses can be purchased in quantity for less than $4.00 per pair. Shop around. The broader your search, the more you will likely save.

Keep in mind that OSHA requires that safety glasses at construction sites meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 standard. You can tell if the glasses you're using are ANSI approved or not because the standard number appears somewhere on them.

Keep playing catch

If all else fails, you can always tug on your employees' heartstrings to get them to comply. Drop the line, "If you won't wear the glasses because it's the right thing to do, then wear them so you can go home and play catch with your kids!" I have yet to find a worker who can disagree with that plea.

SIDEBAR: Prescription solution

Although manufacturers offer "over-glasses," they are often heavy in order to accommodate the larger sizing needed to fit over prescription lenses. It's hard to make these look attractive.

One compliance solution is to have a policy of giving workers with prescription lenses a partial credit (percentage increasing proportionate to years of service, perhaps) at a local provider to have prescription safety glasses created. There are numerous styles available, so even prescription wearers will look good.