Focus on staff eyecare

Access to eye assessments may be a statutory requirement for employees who use VDUs, but it can also help drivers at work maintain adequate vision at the wheel, says Stephanie Spicer

An eye test may not seem like the sexiest benefit that employers can offer to staff, but it is an important one. Not only is it a statutory obligation to provide employees in certain circumstances with an eye test, but the perk can also be instrumental in detecting illness or deficiencies that impact staff performance and help guard against risk, especially in the case of drivers.

Employers are legally obliged under The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations to ensure that staff regularly undertaking work using a VDU have access to an eye test with an optician. They must also provide these staff with special glasses if they need them, health and safety information, regular breaks, the right seating and better lighting to minimise eye strain.

It is important, of course, not just to focus on those staff using screens. Driving is an obvious activity where eyesight needs to be corrected where there are deficiencies. A third of all drivers fail to have their eyes tested regularly, according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s The road ahead report.

Andrew Adams, UK eye care product manager at Accor Services, says: “There is no specific legislation [on] checking the sight of occupational drivers although duty-of-care [obligations] need to be considered for company car drivers and, in particular, the effects of the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Should someone have a fatal accident when driving a company car, then where does the blame lie?”Eye care vouchers are one method employers can use to meet their legal obligations or to offer eye tests generally to staff. For VDU users, eye tests and glasses are not a taxable benefit. “Vouchers [for these] do not constitute a benefit in kind and are PAYE-exempt and VAT-exempt. They are also free of national insurance contributions for both employers and employees, and the employer’s costs are deductible for corporation tax purposes,” says Adams.

However, the tax position for eyecare and glasses for non-VDU users is not so clear, although Adams says that, in his experience, no employer has ever been penalised for claiming an exemption on eye tests and glasses as long as they are provided to employees for use at work.

Healthcare cash plans are another way of providing staff with access to eye care. All provide bands of refunds for optical treatment as part of a whole package of other health treatments.

HSA, for example, offers a corporate healthcare cash plan concentrating on the key dental and optical benefits within its WorkWell range of products. As a standalone product both benefits can be provided for £4-£12 per month per employee.

Abby Bowman, communications manager at HSA, explains: “If staff are better able to afford frequent optical visits, this could have an impact on sickness absence with the optician being able to detect more serious problems such as glaucoma early, and helping to reduce common eye-related problems such as headaches and migraines. It could [also] help with recruitment and retention.”

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  • As with most benefits, staff often need some encouragement to take them up. “Organisations are starting to be more innovative, for instance, hosting eye care clinics, bringing an optician on site once a year or “lunch and learn” sessions to encourage take-up,” Adams says.
  • There are minimum regulatory standards for staff eye care employers must abide by under The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations.
  • VDU work should not be the only focus – employers should consider eye safety and consequences for staff in other activities, for example driving for work.
  • Providing benefits for staff to access optical care and purchase glasses can be done through voucher schemes, or healthcare cash plans.