Employers must examine eye care for staff

Employers need to look carefully at eye care for their staff, says Stephanie Spicer

In the grand scheme of cost control, eye tests may not flash too brightly on the radar of most finance directors. This may be short-sighted – employers have obligations to their employees concerning their eye care, but many employers do not meet their full legal obligations. This is because provision for testing aside, they are only contributing a portion of the cost of an eye test and glasses for VDU user. By law, employers should cover the full amount.

It is therefore essential that FDs are aware of the legal requirements and the implications of not meeting their obligations in this regard. Let’s first look at some figures to see where the problems in meeting those responsibilities may lie.

Many employers are confused over exactly what they should be doing. According to research by Specsavers, 81% of employers do not meet Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations by only making a contribution to the cost of an eye test and glasses (if required solely for visual display unit (VDU) use).

The research also found that 36% of employers are not funding an eye test (if requested more frequently than is standard practice); while 22% do not offer employer-funded eye tests to home workers using VDUs; 18% do so only if they are company-funded VDU screens; and 18% of employers do not even know if they cover staff or not.

The research also reveals that 17% of employers either do not have or do not know if they have an eyecare policy for their staff, and 21% do not communicate their policy, leaving employees to find out the details for themselves.

Why is this a problem? Well, the regulations state that the employer must pay the full costs of an eye test and the provision of basic spectacles, where required. There is a key responsibility within the regulations stating that the employer must communicate their application clearly and effectively. There is also a provision in the regulations for any VDU user to request an eye test at any time outside the defined periods if visual difficulties are experienced.

Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, says: “The Health & Safety Executive Display Screen Equipment regulations are clear that there is a requirement to provide eye tests on request to all current or new display screen equipment users, and that ‘corrective appliances’ are provided where necessary, and solely, for VDU use.”

These tests will include an examination of the health of the eye as well as its function. If any injury or disease is detected the user will be referred for a further examination provided through the NHS. “The above would be termed as the minimum legal requirement, and I would suggest that the minimum requirements for best practice would be that employers also ensure their eye care policy is well communicated, easily understood and consistently applied,” says Lythgow.

What will interest FDs is that they may be unnecessarily paying too much for employee eye care. Many employees choose which optician they visit, but employers can nominate a particular optometrist, thereby controlling costs.

For simplicity, eye care vouchers are one way employers can help employees meet their optical health costs. Vouchers can form the basis of a package of benefits. Vouchers do not constitute a benefit-in-kind and are PAYE- 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. Employers can get vouchers from as little as £17, to cover an eye test and glasses for VDU use.

But back to the cost of not providing adequately for staff, Tim Blackwell, partner at law firm Moore Blatch Resolve, says corporate eye care should not just be focused on VDU use: “There is specific Health and Safety legislation such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations and the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations which place specific duties on employers to protect employees.”

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Blackwell points out that damages for eye injuries can vary enormously. “The most serious cases, where the negligence has caused total blindness, can attract damages of £150,000 or more. The loss of sight in one eye can be worth up to £30,000 whereas minor damage, with a complete recovery can be valued at up to £5,000.”

Expert evidence will be required to assess the long-term prognosis. However, you don’t need glasses to see the benefits of helping prevent those problems.