Personal safety equipment can be pesky.

You likely have someone within your company tasked with the thankless job of distributing, tracking and ordering gear to protect your crew on the job.

These things get lost. These things break. These things cost money.

Juan Rodriguez had enough.

He’s the director of operations at Reef Tropical Pool and Landscape in Key Largo, Fla. The firm had grown steadily from 45 employees to more than 90 over the past nine years. The challenge of overseeing a comprehensive safety program grew, as well.

The office manager fielded constant requests for safety glasses, working gloves and other items that she would retrieve from a box and then log in a database who requested what and when.

“It got very cumbersome,” Rodriguez recalls.

They have a vending machine for that now.

Fastenal is a name you likely recognize. It’s a fastener, tool and work-gear retailer with nearly 2,300 locations. These days, it brings its stores to industrial customers in the form of machines that dispense all kinds of equipment. The company says it has installed more than 55,000 units. Inventory can be customized to each customer’s specifications — hats, sunscreen, nuts, bolts, tape ... you name it.

At Reef Tropical, employees can access work gloves, breathing masks, earplugs and safety glasses — both the clear and shaded varieties — by inputting their employee identification. The machine tracks each transaction, so that HR has a record of who received what and when. In the event of a lawsuit, Reef can produce a report proving that it supplied the necessary safety equipment.

The reporting mechanism also helps with inventory control.

“We have some employees who keep safety glasses for a month and I have others who lose them every five minutes,” Rodriguez says. “It’s a teachable moment for those guys.”

Reef doesn’t need to worry about reordering supplies. That part is automated, too. Fastenal can track inventory and restock as needed.